Friday, January 10, 2020

Detective Comics 27 Review

Without a doubt Action Comics 1 is the most important, and expensive, comic book to ever come out. Not only did it invent the Superhero but it also launched The Golden Age of Comics and is also the comic book debut of Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane. After Action Comics 1, the second most important, and again second most expensive comics book, is Detective Comics 27. Issue 27, for those who don't know, is the comic book where The Batman debuts. Like I mentioned in my Review Of Action Comics 1, The "Bat-man" in this story is very different from the hero we know now.

Batman, or The "Bat-man", was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. These creators have been dead for many years now and the contract signed by Kane to bring Batman into Detective Comics has painted a poor picture of Bob Kane over the preceding years. I don't want to get into too much of it here but if you're interested in the history of the creation of Batman you should watch the documentary Batman and Bill which can currently be seen on Hulu. Now I do not have the millions to afford my own copy of Detective Comics 27 so I'll be reading it on the DC Universe app.

Batman's very first story, "The Case Of The Chemical Syndicate" is a gripping six-page story that within those few panels launches a hero that 80 years later is one of the biggest names in pop culture. The year is 2020 and I find it very hard to believe that you could find a person that didn't live a completely isolated existence who didn't know who Batman was.

The tale starts with best buddies Commissioner Gordon and millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne are sitting around smoking pipes when a call comes in. Lambert, The Chemical King (a Pillar In The Community), has been stabbed to death and his son's prints have been found on the knife. Gordon invites Wayne to tag along and he agrees as he has nothing else going on like that happens every day. I've never heard of rich people paying their way to see crime scenes, particularly when murders afoot. Maybe it's just a thing that millionaires know about and they don't talk about it to common folk like us.

Back to the story, they arrive at the murder scene and it's a standard affair with the police going about solving a murder. Gordon questions the son and he tells his tale of finding his father stabbed on the floor, the safe open and an intruder escaping through the window. His father's last words were of a contract. The son explains that he pulled the knife from his father and that was how his prints were on the handle.

A logical story to the police so they ask if his father had any enemies, and there were three. Just as he gives the names the phone rings and it's Steve Crane, one of the just mentioned names. He was calling to speak to the dead man but when the police told him he was dead he desperately askes to speak with the Commissioner. Crane explains to Gordon that the day before the dead man called and said he'd received an anonymous death threat. Crane was now calling back because he just received the same threat and wanted to know what he should do. Gordon tells him to lock himself into his house and to wait for the police to arrive. The instant Gordon hangs the phone up Bruce Wayne is there saying he's bored and is leaving.

If I was Gordon this would be throwing up flags. Bruce Wayne was bored and decided to go to a murder scene after being invited. Just when it gets really exciting and a man's life is literally on the line and Gordon running out the door to save him, why would he ever leave? I understand that he's Batman and he needs to run off to save the day, but from Gordon's viewpoint, it has to be very strange. I have two brothers who are police officers and we live in a smallish area. Because of this the police have their own cruisers and are allowed to drive them off duty with the understanding that if they were needed in any way that they would be required to help, even if it was the middle of a birthday party or other family outing. So one day we were on the way back to his house in his cop car and suddenly three cop cars go flying by us lights and sirens so my brother turns around and chases after them. We get to a house, the other cops go in, my brother throws on an FBI-like vest that said police on it and went in after them. This was before my other brother was a cop so we're just sitting in the car watching out the windshield like it was a movie screen. Turns out it was a drug house that had found out the cops were on to them and were cleaning the place out before the cops could get there. It ended up being a great story for my brothers and for a few minutes we felt what it was like to be a cop. Anyway back to Batman, knowing the story I just told, if I was in Bruce Wayne's shoes there is no way I'd ever leave at this moment, you'd have to drag me out. Very suspicious on Bruce's part.

So as Bruce is off we cut right back to Steve Crane who had just hung up with Gordon. He starts to have a bad feeling when a criminal breaks in, shoots him dead and steals a paper out of his safe. He then goes to the roof of a nearby building where he hands the papers over but "The Bat-Man" is standing behind them with his arms folded over.

Batman's first time.

Before they can react Batman awkwardly knocks the first one out with a right hook, the second one he puts in a headlock and proceeds to throw him off the roof to his death. Not counting the cover, the fourth ever panel of Batman has him committing murder, flat out murder. The next time some nerd tells you that Batman never kills you can point him to this picture and show him that he was a cold-blooded murderer from day one.

Batman picks up the papers as Gordon pulls up to a scene of a man dressed as a Bat has just thrown a man off a roof to his death and has the right response by ordering the officers on the scene to shoot him. I always found it weird in the 1989 Batman movie when the cops open fire on Batman. While there were rumors in the movie, Batman hadn't killed anybody and Gordon didn't have any standing orders to shoot Batman on site because he orders them to stop shooting immediately. I guess this is why the police shot at Batman in the movie, at least from now on in my mind that's the reason.

Gordon is informed that Steve Crane is dead and that there are two men left who are under threat. Cut to Batman who is in costume driving an ordinary red car while reading the note in daylight while managing to keep his identity under wraps. We don't know yet but the mysteries of the paper bring a smile to Batman's lips.

Rogers, one of the threatened men, goes to the lab of Alfred Stryker, his partner and the last man under threat. Stryker, Jennings assistant, "socks" him unconscious and ties him up in the basement. When Rogers comes to the assistant gloats on how he has a gas chamber and enjoys murdering guinea pigs with it and now Rogers is his new pig. He lowers a glass dome over the doomed man and leaves to turn the gas on to finish him.

Before the dome can reach the ground the "Bat-Man" leaps into the room, grabs a wrench, and dives under the dome. He jams a hanky up the gas hole to block the poison gas and uses the wrench to break the dome freeing the two men. Jennings comes back in the room to watch Rogers' death spasms but is startled by the "Bat-Man" and pulls his gun on him. Even though Batman kills in this issue, he still doesn't like guns so he attacks Jennings until he's beaten him unconscious.

Batman slinks into the shadows as Stryker enters the scene. Rogers tells him how Jennings tried to kill him and not knowing that Batman is still here he pulls a knife and lunges for Rogers since Jennings didn't finish him. Batman grabs the knife from Stryker and explains to a confused Rogers what is going on.

Stryker, Rogers, and the two dead men were all partners in a company called Apex Chemicals Corporation. The 1989 movie again wanted to pay homage to this first comic so they called their's Axis Chemicals which to me sounds better. Stryker wanted to buy out the other three and they were happy with this but he didn't have the money. They came up with a plan where he would pay them in payments and once he paid off the money the business was his. He decided it would be cheaper to just kill them and went with that plan instead.

Stryker has had enough, he pulls a gun on Batman but Batman "socks" him before he can get an aimed shot off. The punch sends Stryker through a railing and into a vat of green acid, killing him. Once again another big nod from the 1989 movie but this time they combined this original story with the Joker's origin story and turned Stryker into Jake Napier/The Joker.

Batman escapes and the next day we find Bruce Wayne hanging out with his pal the Commish who's telling him the details of last night's escapades, even though he was too bored with it the night before. Wayne waves it off as a fairy tale. After he leaves Gordon to think out loud about Wayne being a nice boy but seems to be disinterested in life and too boring, definitely not good enough for his daughter. Bruce Wayne returns home and after a few minutes in his bathroom exits the front door of his mansion dress as Batman to end his first published case. Batman didn't quite get how a secret identity worked yet.

This Batman is a far cry from the Dark Knight we know and love today. Personality-wise Batman/Bruce Wayne is there in a very basic way, not that you can learn much of a character's personality from six pages in 1930's comic storytelling. He is hiding his secret identity of Batman by feigning interest with any mention of Batman or action. We learn nothing about Bruce Wayne except that he's a "young socialite friend" of Commissioner Gordon. No millionaire playboy, no Alfred. And biggest of all, no murdered parents. In this story, there is no reason for Batman to be Batman besides, "Fighting for Righteousness".

Batman Righteousnessly Fighting The Police

Batman mostly looks like Batman and despite the differences, a modern person who knew of Batman would have no problem identifying this version as Batman. His cowl is shaped a bit differently but all the parts are there. His costume is grey with blue-black cowl, cape, gloves, and boots. He has a yellow belt but there is no sign of it being a "utility" belt. Batman doesn't have any gadgets at all. His Batmobile is a non-descript red sedan with no "Batman" additions. While he doesn't have any of his traditional gadgets like a Bat-a-rang, he does have a couple tools. He picks up a wrench and uses it to break through some glass but he didn't bring it with him so it doesn't count.

In the rest of the comic, he only uses two items that he always has with him, his handkerchief and his pipe. Neither one is very Batman, neither are black with little yellow bat logos on them.

Bob Kane's artwork is fine for the time. It's a little cleaner than Joe Shuster's work on Superman but Shuster's art has a little more grit to it that I like. The story is nothing special, a typical mystery story of the time and with six pages there isn't much more that could be done. It's funny to my modern eyes but this story, if done in the contemporary style, would stretch this story out to at least a seven comic arc. With a little fiddling, each page could be its own comic book. It's not that this story is jammed full of story, it's just that a modern writer could take these six pages and stretch it out into many issues, and I'm not trying to put this in a bad light. As long as the storyteller is competent, there isn't a problem with modern comic book storytelling but one thing's for sure, this story is far from something you'd read in a comic book today.

While this story is very basic, there is nothing wrong with it. The problem being, if you changed the names and drew another character over Batman, called it a lost comic book from the late 30s and gave it to someone to read today, after reading it for five minutes, they would put it down and never think about it again. This story is nothing special except that it introduces Batman and in all honesty, this Batman is nothing special. He is basically Zorro with a Bat on his chest. All the things we think of today when we think of Batman isn't here and didn't exist then. To be honest I don't know what the spark was in this story that leads to what Batman is today. I think it was the beginning of the Golden Age of comics, that boom time when anything was possible and everything was tried and what was liked by the masses stuck. Batman was just different enough from Zorro, maybe the addition of the Bat or the indiscriminate killing. All I know was enough people bought Detective 27 that it made Batman popular enough to continue creating new stories with new ideas like Jokers, Batmobiles, and Bat-A-Rangs.

The Original "Batmobile"

So that's the story of Detective Comics 27, the birth of the "Bat-Man". It's not the best first issue, most compelling story, or greatest Batman adventure but it was the first. Without this story we wouldn't have the Batman we have today and that would be a shame, he's brought joy to lots of people over the years, including me, and that's not a bad thing. Plus Detective Comics 27 can rest easy knowing that it will most likely be the second most expensive comic book of all time, behind Action Comics 1. In 2020, if Batman's alter ego wasn't Bruce Wayne he wouldn't even be able to afford his first comic book so those writers had better get to adding the millionaire part to Bruce Wayne's story in Detective 28.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...