1/09/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: DC Comics. 192 page graphic novel. Price: $14.99 (US), $16.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4012-2484-4.
check out website: www.dccomics.com
The significance of this volume is how in 1943 that Bill Finger was no longer the main writer of the Batman tales only clocking in a couple stories and Don Cameron writing the majority. When Bob Kane wasn't pencilling, Jack Burnley was filling the gaps. There are times like this, I wish there was some sort of introduction which might have explained the change of circumstances.
Interesting points from the start is the story, 'The Case Batman Failed To Solve', which considering that it involved someone else figuring out his secret identity is just as well. For the record, I'm not exactly giving away a spoiler saying that cos it's still not the gist of the entire plot but it's a great way to get this 'Batman Chronicles' rolling.
'Prescription For Happiness!' is a great feel-good story where a pharmacist's good deeds get in the way of crime but are resolved with a little ingenuity. Writer Don Cameron certainly brings a different touch to the stories. Whether it's with 'Swastika Over The White House' and a dubious Nazi spy - the first real reference to WW2 in Batman and done in a sleeper infiltration fashion which is quite sophisticated for its time - to the 'Bargains In Banditry' and the Penguin out-witting everyone. This is also the first time the Penguin commits murder and faces the electric chair which gets conveniently forgotten later.
In 'A Crime A Day', the batmobile is trashed or rather incinerated by the Joker but the replacement has the same chassis but with a fin at the rear.
With 'Brothers-In-Law', two feuding police brothers investigating their father's death join up with Batman and Robin who divide them between themselves to track the murderer down and do a neat resolution. Considering this would be regarded as a standard plot today, back in the 40s it must have been considered unusual to appear in the comicbooks.
In 'Your Face Is Your Fortune' written by Jack Schiff has Batman is again showing he's a little soft where Elva Barr, aka the Catwoman is concerned. Considering her identity is known, it seems a bit odd to be still wearing her over-head cat-mask. It's an interesting twist that she turns her affections to some chap called Bruce Wayne. Holy triangle! Although I should point out that at no point has anyone said holy anything yet.
A really interesting tale is 'The Boy Who Wanted To Be Robin!' when the criminal mastermind Knuckles Conger figures the way to stay ahead of Batman is to have a junior side-kick. Training an orphan shoeshine boy and convincing him he was a good guy who doesn't wear a disguise, he uses aerobatics to infiltrate buildings as a cover for theft. Quite why the boy didn't figure out why anyone called 'Knuckles' would be a good guy is debatable but it's a clever tale.
'The Two Futures' is possibly the first alternative reality story where Batman and Robin consult some university dons as to what would happen if the Nazis won World War Two and took over the USA. A little far-fetched only in terms of how big the German military force was at that time but it was no doubt used to stir patriotism and as with later stories, to encourage people to buy war bonds, clearly indicating that readers came in all ages even back then.
'Return Of The Scarecrow' should be a giveaway as to whose second appearance this is. Professor Crane didn't have any fear gas at this time but he was still a formidable presence.
There is also the first appearance of Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the story of the same name taking on the characters from 'Alice In Wonderland' in the act of their crimes. These characters are as outlandish as any of Batman's rogue gallery.
The last story is one written by Bill Finger called 'Crime Of The Month' which produces the formidable crime writer Bramwell B. Bramwell who convinces crime gangs to compete to produce the best crime of the month. It's an odd contrast to Cameron's stories and requires a suspension of belief considering that Batman is stuck in a room where the metal in his utility belt melts and yet he just gets a little warm.
One interesting thing as I keep reading the stories is the obvious influence these shows must have had on the 1966 'Batman' TV series, mostly from the outrageous plans, disguises and utilising their equipment that they had. Indeed, in a couple of the tales Don Cameron writes the pair have to break out of a seemingly impossible trap. Although saying that, neither Batman nor Robin stray far from using ropes to swing down from up high or the batmobile or bat-plane although having the latter described as an autogyro when it doesn't have a top rotor is obviously erroneous for it to hover. It isn't until the 'Tweedledum And Tweedledee' story that this roof rotor is seen even it's a puzzle how a little hole give yield such a rotor.
The fact that this is a long review should point out how much good material was in here. Even if I hadn't known who the writers were without the credits page, it was obvious that the standard of the Batman story material here suddenly had a boost.
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