Batman #6, August-September 1941, "The Clock Maker!"
|Old man Brock loves clocks and
thinks he's Father Time.
stockholders in the Brock Clock Works are overheard talking about how
kill time, Brock decides time should kill them. He sends them clocks
various booby-traps. Batman learns that one of the stockholders has
Brock into this, so that he can buy up the stock but blame the deaths
Brock's madness. (I'm not sure how profitable stock in a madman's
would be, but I suppose similar situations arise on Wall Street every
Just another one of those serial-killers-with-a-theme I like so much.
World's Finest Comics #3, Fall 1941, "The Scarecrow!"
|Prof. Jonathan Crane, a gangly,
is mocked by his fellow professors because he spends all his money on
books. After demonstrating the power of fear in a psychology class,
realizes fear would be a useful tool in crime, and he could get money
more books that way. Since his colleagues call him a scarecrow, he'll
become a scarecrow, and since he's an academic, his first job is as a
consultant: he convinces a department store owner to hire him to scare
people out of a rival's store. (This is long before he acquires the
gimmick, which Hugo Strange actually used first in one of his
I think he is the first of the Bat-villains who takes his theme because of having been mocked with it in his past, but the idea is reused a lot in the late '40s onwards: The Gong, the Penny Plunderer, etc. It's a standard Bill Finger trope.
The Scarecrow has become one of Batman's iconic foes. Pretty good, considering he only appeared in two '40s stories before being revived in the 1960s TV-caused Bat-mania. (I always thought Vincent Price should have been cast as him, rather than the made-for-TV villain Egghead.) He's one of my favorites, too. In fact, for this batch of micros, I decided to jump around in creating the villains, rather than follow my past practice of doing a character from every Batman story in sequence, because I was impatient to do the Scarecrow (and one other, who's coming up).
Also, note that "World's Fair Comics" led to "World's Best Comics" which became "World's Finest Comics" -- an object lesson in marketing on picking the proper superlative.
Detective Comics #56, October 1941, "The Stone Idol!"
City is now Ghost Gulch City, mostly abandoned once a silver mine
nearby failed. Only those with nowhere else to go remained, like old
Mack -- Mad Mack, they call him, because he goes on about how the
ancient stone idol on the mountain will some day come to life and
finish the city. Bruce and Dick, bound for a Western vacation spot,
happen to arrive in town the night lightning strikes the mountain and
causes the idol to slide down into the valley. And the idol does come
to life, at least at times, threatening the citizens. But when
it's not moving, examination shows it's just a stone idol.
Turns out Mad Mack is in league with people from a crooked carnival, trying to scare people out of town because a new vein of silver was discovered in the mine. The idol was rigged to land on an hydraulic platform, so that it could be switched with a living impostor.
Interesting start, but the ending stretches credulity.
Detective Comics #58, December 1941, untitled
|A small, round, tuxedoed man
steals a painting by
it up and hiding it in his hollow umbrella handle. He takes it to a
boss as proof of his abilities and asks to join his gang. But who is
man? "Why not call me The Penguin? I have so many names, and it does
fit. Hee hee!" (paraphrased). When the boss later decides The Penguin
getting too uppity, The Penguin shrugs, says "This was bound to happen
sooner or later", and cold-bloodedly kills him with a gun hidden in the
So we have this grotesque, comical figure who shoots someone early in the story. The Penguin is not the buffoon he was later portrayed as. (The same might be said for the Joker.) Right from the start, the umbrella gimmicks are used. Bird gimmicks, not so much. Oswald Cobblepot? Not until the newspaper strip.
Bat-trivia: Bob Kane said he based The Penguin on a cartoon penguin appearing in Kool cigarette ads. His first appearance certainly supports that claim. (My micro doesn't do it justice. I'll try again in the future.) Modern stories about the Penguin's creation tell a different story, but corporate DC wants to avoid stories involving possible trademark infringement.
Batman #8, December 1941-January 1942, "The Strange Case of Professor Radium!"
|Prof. Henry Ross is convinced
his new radium-based
serum is a
medical miracle... so much so that he poisons himself and leaves
instructions for his lab partner to administer the serum to his dead
And Ross comes back to life. He grasps the partner in a friendly manner
-- and the partner falls down dead. Odd. Must have had a weak heart. So
did that dog he petted. And the flower he picked wilted in his hands.
But it's not until he accidentally kills his fiancee that he realizes
cause is his touch, his serum. Back in the lab, he sees himself glowing
the dark. "It's the radium! The cursed radium! It's driving me mad!" A
rubber suit allows him to move about without contaminating everything
or melting it, as the strength of the radium grows within him. Thus
outfitted, he learns the rare drug Volitell can reduce the radiation.
since it's rare, he must steal the quantities he needs to live outside
of the suit,
bringing him into contact with the Batman.
DC had hopes for Professor Radium to become a recurring villain, but he never appeared after this. They retold the story in the Batman newspaper strip, with the added twist that Ross was using his death touch for mercy killings. He was an inspiration for Doctor Phosphorus in the 1980s, but his inspiration came from The Invisible Ray (1936), a Universal horror movie where Boris Karloff played a scientist given a death touch (and phosphorescence) by exposure to a new element.
Professor Radium was the other reason I decided to do non-sequential Bat-villains this time. I liked him so much, here are two versions, in the rubber suit and radioactive in street clothes.
|Batman #8, December 1941-January 1942, "The Superstition Murders!"||Playwright Johnny Glim's "The
Superstition Murders" bodes to
be a hit, so the cast holds a superstition-breaking party as a
publicity stunt. Then the actors start dying according to the
superstitions they broke: a ladder falls on one, a broken mirror cuts
another. But the show must go on, and the publicity draws the public.
When a black cat with poisoned claws cuts the woman who crossed its
path, Batman and Robin are on the scene to catch the masked killer:
Glim, who had sold his rights too cheaply and was trying to close the
play so he could take up a movie offer for it.
Oboy! Both a "Phantom of..." and a serial-killer-with-a-motif story. Supersitions are a popular motif for comics stories. It's surprising to me that Batman doesn't have a more prominent villain using them.
Detective Comics #63, May 1942, "A Gentleman in Gotham!"
having to become too hot
for him, jewel thief Michael Baffle flees to the
States. As society columnist Charles Courtly, he is invited to
the best homes -- which he cases, so that he can later return and rob
them. Circumstantial evidence leads Bruce's sometime girlfriend Linda
Page to think Courtly is actually The Batman, until she notices his
sandpapered fingertips and names him as the thief. Baffle and
Batman fight with swords, but when Batman slips, Baffle courteously
pauses the fight. "Pshaw! Must give a fellow a sporting chance for his
life, y'know! Your sword, and en
When the swordfight turns into a fist-fight, and Baffle hears others
coming, he leaps from a balcony. "We'll have to postpone this little
skirmish, Batman..." "...we're
on opposite sides, so the next time we meet, you've got a fight on your
hands, Mr. Baffle!"
Inspired by the gentleman-thief Raffles (creation of E. W. Hornung, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law), Mr. Baffle was an interesting opponent for Batman, but he never did return.
Detective Comics #66, August 1942, "The Crimes of Two-Face!"
|Handsome Harvey "Apollo" Kent,
Gotham District Attorney, is in court, linking Boss Moroni to a murder
scene, when Moroni throws acid in his face. When the bandages come off
months later, Kent is so disturbed by the sight -- precisely the left
half of his face is scarred -- that his mind snaps. "I'm not a man! I'm half a man ... beauty and
beast... good and evil! I'm a living
Jekyll and Hyde! ... I'm all alone now... shunned... like a criminal! Wouldn't take much to make me one now... A trick of fate
perhaps... A flip of a coin..." He scars one side of a lucky two-headed
silver dollar of Moroni's and uses it to choose between good and evil.
Calling himself Two-Face, whenever the scarred side of the coin comes
up, he commits a crime, choosing a "double" theme as a calling card,
and keeps the loot. If the good face shows, he double-crosses another
criminal and gives the loot to charity. Batman and Robin strive to stop
this mad rampage. Batman corners Two-Face in his hideout, which
has divided into an ugly half and a neat half. He convinces Two-Face to
flip the coin and submit to plastic surgery if the good face comes up
-- but the coin wedges in the crack between the two halves of the room!
And that's where the first Two-Face adventure ends, not to be continued until two issues later. There'll be one more story after that, culminating in Two-Face's capture and restoration to normalcy. But the living Jekyll and Hyde was too powerful a concept to remain unused. A version of the Two-Face tale, using a mad actor, was retold in the Sunday Batman strip in 1946. In 1948, a butler tries to make Harvey Dent -- maybe the name was changed so as not to associate "Kent" (as in Clark Kent) with evil, or maybe it was just confusion with Clark Kent's name -- think his Two-Face side has resurfaced. In 1951, an actor playing Two-Face is scarred and lives the role. In 1952, someone captures Dent and frames him for new Two-Face crimes. Finally, in 1954, an explosion undoes Dent's plastic surgery, and he becomes Two-Face again in earnest. But then the character drops out of sight until revived in 1971 by Denny O'Neil's returning Batman to his noir Forties roots, after which he became a mainstay of the Batman Rogues' Gallery.
Detective Comics #74, April 1943, "Tweedledum and Tweedledee!"
|Batman and Robin find a fur
warehouse being robbed by a gang
led by a round man. The gang escapes, but when the two return to the
Batmobile, they hear reports of a gem robbery led by a similar man
which occurred at the same time. On a hunch, Bruce Wayne visits a fat
man's clothier and asks about fat twins. He is told of the identical
cousins, Deever and Dumfree Tweed. Batman and Robin set a trap at a
society costume ball, where the Tweeds arrive dressed as Tweedledum and
Tweedledee and are captured.
The Tweeds appeared twice more in the Forties, each time using the same two gimmicks: they appear to be one man in two places at once, and they have the loot brought to them to be stolen. Then nothing until the 1990s, when they turn up as henchmen to the Joker, are shown among Arkham Asylum inmates, and so on -- all minor roles. (Len Wein reportedly wanted to bring them back during his run on Batman in the early '80s but he left the book before he could.)
Detective Comics #77, July 1943, "The Crime Clinic!"
|Dr. Matthew Thorne is a famous
surgeon, with wealth,
prestige, and society connections. But he feels he needs something
in his life. "I love surgery... yet crime excites me! It's like a
... I enjoy acting criminally!" So he opens The Crime Clinic:
yourself sick over how to operate a certain crime? Then come to the
Clinic where your ills can be cured!". He charges 25% of the loot for
prescription for a successful crime ("Rx: Snip vein of burglar alarm
wire") and 50% if he has to make a "house call" ("Where the patient is
conscious like this, it's best to give an anaesthetic."). Seeing his
ambulance outside a warehouse, Batman investigates and hands the Crime
Clinic its first setback. But he's also trailed Thorne to his home
about to arrest him when a sick patient drops in. "Batman, I must
at once, or this man will die! Will you help me?". His professional
ethics won't let him actually kill or let others die, but Thorne
mind threatening them: "I douse Robin with ether -- like this! Don't --
Batman, or this flame will turn Robin into a flaming torch!"
As you might tell from all the quotes, I rather like "The Crime Clinic", up to this point in the story. After this, it falls apart. Thorne drops some hint about the philosopher's stone, which leads to a physicist and an atom smasher, where Thorne tries to kill Batman but is finally arrested. What does all this have to do with medicine? And how convenient that Thorne was willing to drop his professional ethics right at the end, to make the story more exciting, no? It seems to me Bill Finger wrote a great beginning and then had no idea how to end it.
Batman #24 (August-September 1944): "It Happened in Rome"
Nichols is merely a plot device: a way to get Batman and Robin to have
adventures in historical settings. In this introductory story, he
uses hypnotism to make Bruce and Dick imagine they return to ancient
Rome, where they put on their costumes ("Batmanus") and fight a local
In later stories, Prof. Nichols develops actual time travel, sending Batman and Robin now (and eventually Superman) directly back in time.
Batman #26 (December 1944-January 1945): "The Year 3000!"
|In the year 3,000, Gotham City
invaded by warriors from Saturn (suspiciously Nazi-like Saturnians, led
by someone named "Fura"). One
citizen takes inspiration from the historical character Batman to wage
a guerilla war against the Saturnians, and Gotham thinks the legendary
Batman has returned. When he tries to rally them into a general revolt,
they balk. "You're Batman! You've had special training! We're
just ordinary citizens." The future Batman unmasks, showing he was one
of them -- in fact, someone they'd previously thought pretty
ineffectual -- and that supplies the impetus needed for the revolt.
They carry the war back to Saturn, where they discover the "Saturnians"
are actually robots in revolt, and the real Saturnians have been
fighting their own war against them. The future Batman has an outer
space battle with Fura and returns victorious. Incidentally, he's a
descendant of one Bruce Wayne.
Detective Comics #95 (January 1945): untitled
|The Blaze takes his name partly
from his appearance and partly from his use of smoke and fire in crime.
He attempts to organize Gotham criminals under his control, and as the
Baron Von Peltz (which could be an alias or his real name; it is not
explicitly stated) lures Batman into a trap.
Batman #30, August-September 1945, "Ally Babble and the Fourteen Peeves!"
|Millionaire Jasper Quinch is
temporarily wheelchair-bound and has found himself annoyed by 14
different examples of fellow Gothamites -- and he's got you on his
list! Talkative young Ally Babble stumbles into Quinch's life one
afternoon and agrees to handle these fourteen pet peeves in exchange
for $5,000. He goes around town giving the annoying people a taste of
their own medicine. Thugs Hoiman and Shoiman decide they can cash in on
Ally Babble is a one-joke character, and the joke was over after the story title. And yet, he returned once more a few months later, in Batman #34's "Ally Babble and the Four Tea Leaves!"
And where do you go after that? He could meet the Tweeds in "Ally Babble and the Portly Thieves!" Or be in a science fiction adventure, "Ally Babble and the 4-D Trees!" Or you could quietly drop the whole idea and move on.
Batman #31, October-November 1945, "Punch and Judy!"
|Peter Punch and his wife, Judy,
play Punch and Judy in a life-sized puppet show in the carnival they
run. Like their namesakes, they constantly fight in real life as well
as on stage, hurling pots and pans, as well as insults, at each
other. Batman and Robin try to break up one of their squabbles,
then stay to investigate the carnival. They find rampant cheating going
on. Punch and Judy try to play innocent, but a fight breaks out, and
they're all hauled off to jail, where the couple continue their
The story ends with the possibility of seeing this duo again, but they never reappeared. Paul Dini once expressed interest in doing a Punch and Judy story, but apparently domestic violence doesn't play as humorously today as it did in the '40s, stereotypical pots and pans notwithstanding. In The Batman cartoon series, the Joker had a pair of henchmen named Punch and Judy, but they were two male bruisers, unrelated to these two except in name.
Detective Comics #106, December 1945, "The Phantom of the Library!"
|Introducing Dick to the features
of the modern library, Bruce learns
the Gotham library is supposedly haunted. They see a retired police
inspector struck by a falling bust while researching the case of a
librarian who disappeared years ago: Todd Torrey, who murdered the
superior who wanted to fire him. They learn the inspector, who had
worked on the case, was summoned
to the library by a note, and a former D.A., who prosecuted Torrey, has
received a similar note. Torrey is "The Phantom of the Library", having
spent seven years in secret passages and tunnels in and under the
library, plotting revenge. Eventually, Torrey falls to his death from a
chandelier while trying to kill Batman.
When you have to have 3 or 4 separate Batman stories a month, making each story different yet compelling is a regular problem. To provide variety, Batman stories fall into a series of types: the murder mystery, the serial killer, and the crime plot, obviously, but also stories with "variations on a theme" (a crook, returning or brand-new, costumed or not, picks a theme for his/her crimes), "law enforcement around the world" tales (Canadian Mounties, the Harbor Patrol), the "lives intersect" human interest story, a swipe from a movie plot, and the educational story, where the details of a career or aspect of life serve as the springboard. This is one of the latter type.
And, sadly, when you're trying to build a plot around unrelated facts about a career or locale, sometimes the story doesn't quite work, as is the case here. Why the library had those tunnels and passages is unexplained, as is why Torrey waited 7 years before seeking revenge, or why he had to bring the victims to the library rather than going to them -- you'd think a series of accidents in a library would lead someone to investigate, even if they weren't Batman and Robin. Torrey himself isn't particularly visually interesting, but I do like variations on "Phantom of the Opera".
World's Finest Comics #20, Winter 1945, "King of Coins!"
Smith cases the newly opened coin shop of Mark Medalion, who offers an
easy way to wealth: treasure maps for sale. Medalion, wheelchair-bound,
provides the research, now you do the physical work and Medalion gets
half of the value of what's found. Smith thinks he has an easier
way: he'll hijack the treasure after it's been dug up by others. When
Batman and Robin thwart his first attempt, Smith robs Medalion of his
remaining maps, as there's less risk in doing the digging
himself. Medalion shows Batman his sketch versions of the maps,
which helps Batman find and capture Smith and his gang. But
there's something funny about these ancient coins -- sure, they look
they're all dated the same and damaged in the exact same way.
Batman confronts Medalion, who captures him and reveals all. He's
really Lew Cronin, ex-counterfeiter, who learned of a gold boullion
cache from a cellmate. On being freed, Cronin recovered the gold
but was unable to sell it legally. But if it were recast into
"ancient" coins, "found" by treasure hunters, he could at least explain
where it came from to the government. (The wheelchair was just part of
the disguise.) Batman and Robin escape a nasty trap involving molten
gold, capture Cronin, and turn the gold over to the feds.
Some quibbles: Kind of a round-about plot. I suppose a half-million is better than a million you can't spend, but it seems awfully wasteful for a crook. An evil numismatist seems to me to be an underdeveloped villain theme. But not a bad little story, all in all.
Detective Comics #106, January 1946, "The Mountain of the Moon!"
|The modern alchemist, Scorpio,
can change worthless materials into precious ones, and he'll happily
take you on as a paying pupil to teach you the method. But don't
expect overnight success; it takes time (and regular fees) to practice
alchemy properly, but it does work. Here's the proof! See,
even Robin agrees! But Batman, having detected the scent of a gas which
weakens the will,
realizes Scorpio is hypnotising his victims into believing his methods
work, and he soon unmasks Scorpio as con man Bugs Scarpis.
This story's notion originated in a 1935 Doc Savage story, "The Majii", where The Majii's disciple, Rama Tura, performs a similar stunt.
Detective Comics #113, July 1946, "Crime on the Half-Shell!"
|Oyster fisherman Cap'n Jibbs wanted a son but, when he was blinded, had to allow his daughter to continue the family business. And Jo Jibbs was good at it -- until the criminal named Blackhand tried to muscle into the business. "I'm tough," said Blackhand. "See this hand? I was handcuffed to a detective. I shoved both our hands into a fire. The copper fainted and I got the cuff key." But Blackhand proved not to be as tough as the Batman.||
Batman #39, February-March 1947, "The Man in the Iron Mask!"
|"Iron-Hat" Ferris squealed on
another gangster, so someone decides to
punish him using another iron hat, a medieval "mask of shame", which is
welded around his head. Ferris can't go to his
criminal associates, who would kill him, nor the police, who'd arrest
him. Now a marked fugitive, he cracks under the strain and commits a
series of "iron"-themed
robberies. Politician Henry Kendall makes much of this in his
campaign to unseat the current District Attorney, who calls in Batman
to help. Batman proves this Man in the Iron Mask cannot be Ferris and
discovers Ferris a prisoner in Kendall's home. Kendall had found Ferris
and, unable to convince him to help shame the DA, decided to do it
himself and frame Ferris for it. The mask is struck by lightning,
and Kendall dies.
The mask of shame was an actual punishment, but it was only locked on the victim and removed when the period of shame was over. The mask was made in the shape of an animal related to the crime or social sin being punished. So gossips had a long-nosed rat, and so on. This mask is a generic beast -- possibly a pig, because Ferris squealed.
Bat-trivia: This story was one of 6 chosen to be retold as part of a mini-comic giveaway with Pop-Tarts during the 1960s Bat-mania and, aside from one where Batman fakes his own replacement, was the only one not featuring a villain from the TV show. (The others had The Joker, The Penguin, The Catwoman, and The Mad Hatter.)
World's Finest Comics #28, May-June 1947, "Crime Under Glass!"
|In Glass Town, most of the businesses depend in some way upon the Stevens Glass Works. When the Morton Glass Works moves in, offering cheaper glass because of its more modern production facilities, Stevens loses first his big customers -- Manders, the financier and amateur astronomer; Briggs, the architect; Strong, the electrical supply executive; Judson, the auto manufacturer -- then the entire business. He swears public vengeance against everyone involved in his downfall. Soon after, Manders receives a glass model of an observatory; Briggs a glass skyscraper; Strong, a glass dynamo -- all with sharp poison-coated edges which quickly kill their recipients. Batman comes to investigate, and stops Judson before he cuts himself on a glass car. While Batman is learning the background, the bizarre Glass Man appears. His refractive helmet distorts his true features. The Glass Man tries to suffocate Batman in a glass ball, but Batman escapes. He then saves Morton's factory and unmasks the Glass Man as... Judson, who lost Manders's financing because his cars were unsafe. He used Stevens's threats as a cover to kill Manders, then killed the other two and faked his own attempt to further support the theory. Judson is dazzled by a reflection during the fight and falls into the glass furnace. Thus endeth the Glass Man.||
World's Finest Comics #30, September-October 1947, "The Penny Plunderers!"
|Joe Coyne is constantly thwarted
by pennies. That's all the
money he ever had growing up, and when he turns to crime as an adult,
caught in his first robbery, where there was only pennies in the
till. So, in prison, he swears to use pennies to get rich. Once freed,
tear-gas bomb in a penny roll to rob a bank, then ransoms antique
banks back to their wealthy owner. Batman sees reports of these
and surmises a coming display of the rare "one-penny black" stamp
attract this "Penny Plunderer". Sure enough, Coyne and his gang are
Batman nabs one thug, who says Coyne's hideout is in a penny-arcade.
Batman and Robin are caught and left to die in a poison gas
leaves behind two cents -- "That's all your lives will be worth in a
little while!" But Batman uses the coins as part of an improvised
battery and sends an SOS over a ripped-out phone wire. Batman and
chase after Coyne and corner him in a warehouse. Coyne tries to hold
off there until he can call the rest of his gang, but the pay phone
requires a nickel, and all he has in his pockets are pennies. So,
pennies thwart the Penny Plunderer.
Just another crook-with-an-obsession story, really notable only because the coin and stamp show where the one-penny black is displayed is the source of the giant penny in the Batcave trophy room.
Star-Spangled Comics #70, July 1947, "Clocks of Doom!"
|While filming footage for a
class project, Dick Grayson's friends accidentally film evidence of a
recent robbery. The thieves' boss, who's called The Clock because
of the precise timetables he always follows, goes after the film, which
leads Robin to get involved.
Robin was popular enough that DC decided to give him his own feature in Star-Spangled Comics, as of February, 1947. It seems the comics industry realized that, with young soldiers no longer buying their magazines in PXs, they had to appeal directly to the teen audience. Quite a few stories showed him solving "teen-age" problems: teen gangs, kids his age who also wanted to be heroes, that sort of thing. He didn't get too many villains of his own, but The Clock was the first, and the only one to return during the series (for a total of 4 appearances). As The Clock King, he appeared on the Batman TV show of the '60s (although the name came from a Green Arrow villain), and he was the certainly the inspiration for the character of that name from Batman -- the Animated Series: someone obsessed with time and schedules and, by extension, clocks. In the first story, he did not have a distinguishing appearance, but when he returned a few issues later, he was redesigned to look like a clock himself. Here are both appearances.
World's Finest Comics #31, November-December 1947, "The Man with the X-Ray Eyes!"
|Former flying ace Eddie Brand
test-pilots a plane of his own design, but fumes from something in its
makeup affect his eyes, giving him the ability to see in the x-ray
spectrum (i.e., "X-ray vision", like Superman has). He tries to use
this freak talent to make a living on the stage, but once his society
friends learn of his ability, they shun him, for fear he will learn
their secrets (one socialite wears a wig; another worries about the
private papers he carries). Naturally, they do not admit to having such
secrets, so they don't tell him the reason; not understanding, Brand is
hurt and turns against them, cooperation with a sleazy associate to use
his powers for crime. Realizing Brand is more a psychological problem
than a true criminal, Batman counters his x-ray vision (lamps in the UV
and IR spectra confuse what he sees in the X-ray one) and gives him a
shock with returns him to his normal personality, in the course of
which he loses the x-ray vision.
Batman #45, February-March 1948, "The Match!"
|The Match is an arsonist,
specializing in insurance fraud and working
with a dishonest accountant to learn who might be interested in his
services. There's not much to more to say about him, other than to
point out his match-like appearance and note that, ironically, he is
afraid of water and cannot swim, which is how Batman captures him.
I suppose he's a refinement on the character of The Blaze, but Batman didn't get a decent arsonist foe until The Firefly was reinterpreted in the 1990s.
Batman #47, June-July 1948, "The Origin of the Batman!"
|A routine investigation leads
Batman to a trucking company run by one Joe Chill, a former
gangster. Batman recognizes Chill as the unnamed hold-up man who
killed his parents. Chill is using his company to smuggle wanted
criminals across state lines, but there's no proof. Batman decides on a
desperate strategy. He confronts Chill one night and tells him
the story of the Wayne's murders. Young Bruce survived and can identify
him as the killer. Chill scoffs. "No jury would believe Wayne's
identification accurate after all these years! You're
bluffing! Besides... how do you
know what really went on that night?" Batman unmasks. "I know because I
am the son of
the man you murdered! I am
Bruce Wayne!!" He tells Chill he'll be watching him from now on,
ready to pounce when Chill makes a mistake. Shaken, Chill runs to
some gangster employees. "Batman
just told me who he is! He became Batman
because I killed his father!" The crooks react angrily -- "So you're
responsible for the guy who broke up my numbers racket!" -- and shoot
Chill in revenge, only belatedly realizing they should have gotten a
name from Chill first. Batman is right behind Chill and arrests
the crooks. Chill dies, closing the Wayne murder case.
One can argue that there could have been less drastic ways to get Chill. But as a piece of comic-book drama, this is one of the best.
Batman #49, October-November 1948, "The Scoop of the Century!"
|When an odd criminal dressed
like the Mad Hatter from Alice in
Wonderland attempts to rob a yacht, news photographer Vicki Vale
is there to capture the event on film -- including Batman getting
slightly cut on the chin. When she later meets Bruce Wayne and notices
a similar cut, Vicki thinks she's stumbled on the Scoop of the Century
and sets about collecting evidence to prove Batman is Bruce Wayne. It
takes all Batman's ingenuity to both stop the Mad Hatter and convince
Vicki she is mistaken.
Vicki Vale was explicitly created to be Batman's version of Lois Lane, a snoopy reporter who could serve as a semi-love interest, a ready-made damsel in distress, and a constant threat to the secret of Batman's identity. As such, this story is really about her, and the Mad Hatter is a throwaway foe, colorless except for his appearance. (The Alice gimmick was already the provenance of the Tweeds.)
I've never liked this original Mad Hatter much. This Hatter's sole gimmick is that he looks like the Tenniel illustration from Alice. I prefer the later version, the red-haired Jervis Tetch from the late '50s who used hats for crime. I was surprised when the original Hatter was brought back in the 1980s, even though writer Doug Moench tried to spice things up by giving him mind-control gizmos. (Other stories have hinted he's also a child molester.) And I was annoyed when the story claimed this Hatter had killed his "impostor". Apparently Bat-scribe Mike W. Barr was similarly annoyed, as he wrote a story establishing the 2nd Hatter in the post-Crisis continuity. ("See? He's still alive! Take that, Doug Moench!") But the first Hatter is the one who survives today, thanks in part to his appearances in Batman, the Animated Series in the '90s.
World's Finest Comics #41, July-August 1949, "The Man with the Fatal Hands!"
|Socialite Edgar Albrek returns
to Gotham after months hunting big game in Africa, but with an
astounding story. His gun had exploded in his hands, and a renegade
surgeon had grafted the hands of another person onto his arms. Look,
see the scars? I can play the piano, where I never could before. Oh my
god, my hands are trying to strangle someone! Batman investigates, and
Albrek seems distraught, but his hands keep acting of their own
volition, like when they try to kill Batman himself. Finally, they
attempt to kill his wealthy uncle -- who proves to be Batman in
disguise. Albrek is proved to have invented the whole "grafted hands"
story to give himself an alibi; if Batman was convinced that he wasn't
responsible for what his hands did, no jury would think he
intentionally murdered his uncle for an inheritance. But Batman found a
flaw in the story (the hands were supposedly from an Englishman yet
forced Albrek to drive a car on the American side of the road) and gave
Albrek sufficient rope to condemn himself.
This was inspired the by the old "Hands of Orlac" movies (probably the 1935 Mad Love version), in which grafted hands do indeed have a "mind" of their own.
Batman #53, June-July 1949, "The Portrait of Doom!"
|Vain Frank Fabian has his
portrait painted by the artist X. He attempts to buy the completed
work, but X, feeling this is a masterwork which capture the true, cruel
soul of Fabian, refuses to sell it. So Fabian kills X and steals the
painting. Fabian is also a masked thief called the Dapper Bandit,
and as he plies his illegal trade, even escaping from Batman, he starts
to notice slight changes in his portrait: it makes him look more and
more like a monster. Eventually, it becomes so hideous, he covers it
up. And then one day, he looks at the painting, and it's become normal
again. But in the mirror, he is now the hideous monster, which leads to
his mental collapse and arrest by Batman -- who then reveals the
secret: X's widow, realizing the subject of the stolen painting must be
her husband's killer, has been sneaking into Fabian's home each night
and modifying the painting with fast-drying paints. When Batman
realized this, he conspired with her to drive Fabian to confess,
eventually restoring the painting and making up Fabian as the monstrous
Obviously, this was inspired by The Picture of Dorian Grey, probably the 1945 Paramount film version, for which the artist Ivan Albright was commissioned to make the final, corrupt portrait. To my delight, I once stumbled across this portrait in the Chicago Art Institute -- turned a corner, and there it was, and I hadn't realized it was anything other than a movie prop.
|Batman #53 (June-July 1949): "Batman Under the Sea!"||In a seaside resort, Bruce Wayne
notices the wheelchair-bound Mr. Phaeton and thinks he's acting oddly.
Shadowing him, he discovers Phaeton is part of a smuggling ring. As
Batman, trying to arrest Phaeton, he's caught in an explosion and wakes
up under the sea -- as a merman. Phaeton is actually a merman, and the
law-abiding other mermen have had to give Batman a fish tail and gills
to save his life. Batman adjusts to his new life and stops Phaeton from
conquering the other mer-people, but at the cost of another accident.
He wakes up on the surface again. Robin assures him his sub-sea
adventures were all imaginary, and shows the real Mr. Phaeton to have
human legs. But Phaeton was caught in the same final accident as Batman
had been, and if the mer-people had saved Batman again by restoring his
legs, maybe they did the same to Phaeton?
Or maybe you really were hallucinating, Batman. C'mon.
Detective Comics #150, August 1949, "The Ghost of Gotham City!"
|Rifle Rafferty was executed
three years earlier, but his ghost now appears to the judge and D.A.,
proclaiming his innocence. When they fail to take action, the ghost
appears in a theater, announcing to the public that he'll prove he's a
ghost by tipping off Gotham to crimes in progress. Batman and Robin
find the tips are correct and stop the crimes. In one such crime, the
thieves want a tapestry. Rafferty's ghost announces it's death to any
who touch the tapestry. After stopping the thieves (who wanted it
because it held directions to hidden loot), naturally B&R take the
tapestry to the Bat-cave to examine it -- and the ghost appears there,
warning them they are now doomed. Commissioner Gordon calls in famed
ghost-buster Dr. Paul Visio, but when the ghost appears next, Visio is
stumped and proclaims it a real ghost. When B&R go to collect
Visio's report, the ghost appears again, repeats that they are doomed,
and shoots them. As their bodies slump to the floor, the ghosts of
Batman and Robin appear, accusing Visio as the mastermind behind the
scheme. Visio panics, and B&R get up from the floor and arrest him
and his nearby mobsters.
It was all a plot for Visio to kill B&R prior to taking over Gotham gangs. The ghost was made by special effects, and the tapestry treated to produce the ghost on demand. The threat of doom was made precisely to get B&R to touch the tapestry, so the ghost would have a reason to kill them. B&R later detected the treatment, put the facts together, and prepared their own "ghosts" to startle Visio into confession.
Batman #54 (August-September 1949): "The Treasure Hunter!"
|Members of the Hobby Horse club are being robbed of their valuable (if unusual) collections (matchbook covers, sea shells, etc.) or and forced to pay extortion to get them back. The criminal is the masked Treasure Hunter, whom circumstantial evidence suggests is a member of the club. Batman weeds out red herrings and pins the crimes on the club steward, an employee who resented the rich members spending their money on such frivolous items while he lived in relative poverty.||
Detective Comics #152, October 1949, "The Goblin of Gotham City!"
|Vicki Vale does a story about
three men Batman saved who turned their
lives around afterwards. After she takes a group picture of the
three, a grotesque safe-cracker called The Goblin, after the mask he
wears, steals the negative. Batman, realizing The Goblin was one of
the three men, recalls that one of them was carrying a pair of gloves
which he's sure would prove he's The Goblin -- if he could only recall
which one it was. Vicki takes a replacement picture, where no-one has
gloves, but The Goblin comes for that, too, and Batman exposes him as
Tate. Tate locks Vicki and Robin in a jammed safe to
suffocate. He's about to kill Batman when Batman says that Vicki
made a print of the original negative which she has in her purse.
When the police find their bodies, they'll know who The Goblin is.
The Goblin must open the safe using his standard mode of operation: he
cuts a finger off his glove, fills it with blasting powder, puts it
into a hole drilled in the safe (the improvised sack keeps the powder
from falling into the safe's works), and sets it off. The glove with
the missing finger was the clue. Police watch from concealment as
Tate opens the safe -- this was all a ruse to get him to prove he's
The story doesn't quite gel, but it does say that Tate and The Goblin are separate personalities, each unaware of the other's existence, and The Goblin looks like an evil version of an old-time Southern Senator, which is cute. So it has its moments.
Batman #55, October-November 1949, "The Bandit of the Bells!"
|Alarm clocks, school bells, the
chime of the time-clock -- Ed Peale thought bells ruled his life, so he
set out to become their master. He learned many facts about bells
and, as The Gong, used them to commit crimes.
Among the single-gimmick villains, The Gong was pretty lame. Since he couldn't stand bells, Batman cornered him near a shooting gallery and fired bulls-eye after bulls-eye, ringing the bell each time, until The Gong surrendered.