Batman #6, August-September 1941, "The Clock Maker!"
|Old man Brock loves clocks
and thinks he's Father Time. When stockholders in the Brock
Clock Works are overheard talking about how they kill time,
Brock decides time should kill them. He sends them clocks
with various booby-traps. Batman learns that one of the
stockholders has urged Brock into this, so that he can buy
up the stock but blame the deaths on Brock's madness. (I'm
not sure how profitable stock in a madman's company would
be, but I suppose similar situations arise on Wall Street
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, ragged figure, is mocked by his fellow professors
because he spends all his money on books. After
demonstrating the power of fear in a psychology class, Crane
realizes fear would be a useful tool in crime, and he could
get money for 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 fear
dust gimmick, which Hugo Strange actually used first in one
of his appearances.)
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!"
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 rolling it up and hiding it in his
hollow umbrella handle. He takes it to a crime boss as proof
of his abilities and asks to join his gang. But who is this
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 is 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 umbrella.
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 body. 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 the cause is
his touch, his serum. Back in the lab, he sees himself
glowing in 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. But
since it's rare, he must steal the quantities he needs to
live outside of the suit, thus 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!"
|Europe 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 garde!" 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.
World's Finest Comics #6, Summer 1942, "The Secret of Bruce Wayne!"
|Reporter Scoop Scanlon is given the challenge of learning
Batman's true identity. Using a series on Batman as a
pretext, he accompanies Batman and Robin on various
missions, each time surreptitiously taking some sort of
measurement of Batman's physical appearance. Being a good
reporter, he comes up with the right answer: Batman is Bruce
Wayne. Being Batman, Batman fakes him out by using a
dying actor to impersonate Wayne so the two can appear at
the same time. And there's a Nazi agent secretly
pushing Scanlon to continue, as well.
I had long thought this Scoop Scanlon was the same character who had previously appeared in a series of his own over in Action Comics, but, sadly, that turned out not to be the case.
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 Two-Face 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
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 #70, December 1942, "The Man Who Could Read Minds!"
|Stage mentalist Carlo undergoes brain surgery after an
auto accident. A slip of the scalpel somehow really
gives him the ability to read minds. He initially holds
Batman at bay by threatening to reveal his identity, but
Batman decides to risk it all and corners Carlo at
sea. After imprisoning Robin in a diving bell without
oxygen, Carlo attempts to escape but falls into the
sea. Washed ashore, dying, he attempts to write
Batman's identity in the sand, but the waves erase it after
World's Finest Comics #8, Winter 1942, "Brothers in Law!"
|Little Nap Boyd, a.k.a. The Little Corporal, plays up his
resemblance to Napoleon Bonaparte by planning all his crimes
with military precision. When he kills G-Man John
O'Brien, the surviving O'Brien sons (one a detective, one a
state trooper) must overcome an old rivalry to bring him in.
This is one of those human interest stories in which Batman takes a back seat to other characters. It's notable in that it's the first use of a Bat-villain with a military theme, something which will be revisited with other characters over the coming years.
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
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 more in his
life. "I love surgery... yet crime excites me! It's like a
drug ... I enjoy acting criminally!" So he opens The Crime
Clinic: "Worrying yourself sick over how to operate a
certain crime? Then come to the Crime Clinic where your ills
can be cured!". He charges 25% of the loot for a
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
and is about to arrest him when a sick patient drops in.
"Batman, I must operate 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 doesn't mind
threatening them: "I douse Robin with ether -- like this!
Don't -- -- move, 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"
|Prof. 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 criminal.
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 is 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
World's Finest Comics #17, Spring 1945, "Crime Goes to College!"
|Darby Deems thinks he has it all figured out. He
goes to college for one purpose alone: to study the
psychology of dreams. Afterwards, he gets people to
tell their dreams on a radio program where, as "Dr. Dreemo",
he gives a public analysis of them. But these
analyses are not the real ones, for dreams can reveals
people's deepest secrets, and Deems keeps those secrets for
his own profit: he blackmails a crook he's learned is a
murderer and deduces the way to get a miser to surrender his
fortune. When Batman figures out Dreemo's scheme, he
provides, as Bruce Wayne, a dream designed to rattle Dreemo,
leading to his arrest. Dreemo uses his education to
teach fellow prisoners that crime cannot pay.
I'm not sure why Dreemo has this funny little hat. He sort of looks like one of the '20s collegiates as drawn by cartoonist John Held. Maybe there's some connection there...
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 Babble's antics.
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 fighting.
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!"
|"Lucky" 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 old, but 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, he's
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, he uses a tear-gas bomb in a penny roll to
rob a bank, then ransoms antique penny banks back to their
wealthy owner. Batman sees reports of these thefts and
surmises a coming display of the rare "one-penny black"
stamp would attract this "Penny Plunderer". Sure enough,
Coyne and his gang are there. 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 trap. Coyne 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 wet-cell battery and sends an SOS over a
ripped-out phone wire. Batman and Robin chase after Coyne
and corner him in a warehouse. Coyne tries to hold them 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, again, 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
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, cooperating 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 which returns him to his
normal personality, in the course of which he loses the
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.
Detective Comics #140, October 1948, "The Riddler!"
|Edward Nigma learned to love
puzzles at an early age. But what he really loved about them
was that he could cheat in their solutions and others would
never know. As an adult, he refined his techniques as "E.
Nigma, the Puzzle King", a crooked carnival pitchman.
Finally, he decided to use his knowledge of riddles and
puzzles to confound the law. As The Riddler, he used a pun
in an answer to send the police, and Batman, to the wrong
scene of an intended crime. Eventually, Batman tracked him
to a carnival maze, where he tried to trap Batman, but the
trap backfired and he fell into the sea.
The Riddler had appeared only twice, both times in the Forties, before he was resurrected for the Batman TV show, which (thanks to Frank Gorshin's performance) made him into a popular Bat-villain. But it was Gardner Fox who, riding the Bat-mania tide of the Sixties, made the Riddler into a foe with a mental quirk, a compulsion to give a riddle before committing a crime, which has elevated him from being just another theme villain to a worthy addition to the psychologically warped pantheon of Batman's rogues gallery.
I made this micro at the request of someone, because I'd noticed all existing Riddler micros did not use the black collar his suit had in the '40s. Here's E. Nigma, the Puzzle King, for good measure.
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.
Detective Comics #147, May 1949, "Tiger Shark!"
|Tiger Shark is a gang leader
specializing in nautical and dockside crimes. He operates
from a refurbished sunken ship off shore, which Batman
required a new "sub-batmarine" to reach. When captured, he
is revealed to be the oceanographer, Dr. Gaige.
Batman #53, June-July 1949, "The Portrait of Doom!"
|Vain Frank Fabian has his
portrait painted by the artist Marlin. He attempts to buy
the completed work, but Marlin, feeling this is a masterwork
which captures the true, cruel soul of Fabian, refuses to
sell it. So Fabian kills Marlin 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: Marlin'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 image.
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
Or maybe you really were hallucinating, Batman. C'mon.
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.
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 Martin 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 Goblin.
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.