Whew! I've been slogging through these old Detective Comics issues for a while now, just to get to this point. Not that there isn't a lot of fun in the things - Siegel and Shuster's 'Spy' feature was always pretty fun, for example - but into every 68-page anthology comic a little crappy storytelling must fall and I've read all of it. Curse you, Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise! Curse you, half the adventures of Bruce Nelson! No matter, though: I have reached No. 27 and so from now on shall have :
Oh, man. I'm going to be looking forward to the Bat-Man story in every issue. This was a great little yarn, which is both unsurprising and a bit of a relief. I mean, it makes sense that the first appearance of a character as enduring as Batman is good - otherwise why would he have been invited back the next month - but there's always that little twinge of fear when reading something like this. What if Batman's first appearance was terrible? Am I a fool for liking him? What does this say about my Batman-themed wedding? Lucky for me (and the future Mrs. Review [Ladies? Call me.]) all is well with the bat-past - this is a great comic.
Since several different parts of the bat-mythos (not, however, including the practice of sticking the 'bat' prefix onto things) made their debuts in this adventure I'll be dealing with them separately.
This is the Gordon that you see in comics all the way through the Golden and Silver Ages: round glasses, pencil-thin mustache, slicked back hair and some moderate jowliness. In my head I uncharitably refer to him as "Fat Gordon". Fat Gordon might not look as cool or as tough as the current version, but check out his mad police skills:
"They say you killed your father!" That's Bad Cop.
And up there? That's Good Cop. Gordon's a whole damn team of detectives all on his lonesome. I'll bet that after this he started lifting fingerprints off of things before taking a quick jog downtown to stop a riot. Fat Gordon's got the goods, even if he looks a little bloated.
Ah, but check this out:
First appearance of the Bat-man! I must say, I like the flared out cape, even though it must give him some trouble in doorways. This is definitely the only version of Batman that looks good with the cape thrown forward over his shoulders like that. Usually it looks really affected and weird - like Batman is getting too into being cape-dramatic and is maybe thinking about going to a Ren Faire or a LARP party, somewhere where they really appreciate all the interesting and visually appealing things that you can do with a cape - but flared out like that it looks pretty fantastic. Note that Bat-Man has scared the crap out of someone in his very first on-panel appearance.
He kicks a fair amount of ass, too.
I love how many aspects of the Batman we all know and lovingly fear show up in this comic. It's not that surprising, in that Detective was essentially about guys solving mysteries and socking bad guys, but it's nice that Batman didn't start out dressed all in green or as some sort of laughing Shadow knock-off. I don't know if beating up some guys and taking a piece of paper off of them qualifies him for the title of World's Greatest Detective just yet but every little bit counts, you know?
Fantastic death traps weren't uncommon at the time but rarely were they foiled with such speed and competence. Bat-Man just schools this thing. Note that he doesn't narrate what he's doing either. This is the quiet version of our old pal. Lord. I'm just gushing now.
Ah, there's the detecting. Bat-Man finally opens his mouth and solves the whole mystery. So: we've got the detectin' the fightin' and the scarin'. Sounds like a Batman to me, Larry.
And then there's this:
Early Batman's a bit more cavalier about human life than the present-day chap. To be fair, the guy was an asshole. I'm not entirely sure how long it takes before the official bat-position is that All Life Is Sacred but I'm glad of it. As interesting as it is to see the Dark Knight off bad guys without compunction, imagine what kind of horror that Batman would have become during the Nineties. Brrr.
As a final touch: the first time that Batman pulled the old "take off in the middle of a conversation" trick. A classic.
Aside from his purple gloves, this version of Bat-Man is
Well, not really. Bat-Man does drive a car in this issue, though. Here are its two panels of glory:
Bright red, without even the bat head on the hood? Not cool. Even less cool? matching the interior of your car to your awful purple gloves.
Bruce shows up as a guy who's just idly visiting the Commissioner of Police and tags along with him to a crime scene. For the first half of the story he's just peeking over Gordon's shoulder as he interviews witnesses and looks at evidence and so forth. He also looks rather dashing with a pipe:
I don't much care for the checked suit but I'm pretty sure that it was the height of fashion in its day, so I'll let that pass. One terrific thing about this Bruce Wayne is that he started off not as a shallow party animal but as a guy who is constantly bored, like he's partied so much that even a murder investigation doesn't interest him in the least.
See? He couldn't care less about some tawdry murder but at least it beats deflowering Gotham's latest crop of debutantes or whatever else he had penciled in for that afternoon.
When Bruce Wayne says "Ho-hum", he means it.
I am left wondering, though. Why do these two hang out so much? Does the Commissioner actually like hanging out with this yawning pretty-boy? Maybe Gordon's just looking out for his future - sooner or later there's going to be an overdosed cheerleader or five to quietly dispose of and the day after that Gotham's going to have to find a new Commissioner of Police.
SEVENTY-YEAR-OLD SPOILER WARNING!
Bruce Wayne ended up being JOHN APPROVED. Do you want to know why?
Turns out he's the goddamned Bat-Man! Man, was I surprised.