Monday, April 27, 2009

Single Issue Review: Detective #374

(Cover by Novick)

The Batman series was nearing the end of its run on TV, and DC had bought out Bob Kane, so Julius Schwartz was free to hire new artists for Batman. And one of the first he brought in was Gil Kane. Kane had done one earlier issue of Tec (#371), and this was his only other appearance as Batman's penciller to my knowledge.

The story starts out with Robin taking a brutal beating:

We learn that Batman and Robin had been tackling a gang at their hideout. Batman went in through the front door, while Robin guarded the rear. But at the last minute Batman remembers that this gang had the rear exit sealed up. So there was really no need to send Robin away, and when Batman defeats the gang he's stunned to discover that someone has savagely attacked the Boy Wonder.

Batman leaves the youngster at a hospital, while he goes out raging in pursuit of the attacker:

Okay, now at this point I am pretty sure I have the inspiration for this particular story figured out. Remember the conversation from Batman #200 between Biljo White and Mike Friedrich? Well, that issue had come out one month before this one, and Friedrich reminisced about one of his favorite moments from Batman #5:

During the course of the sotry, the mob beat Robin nearly to death and left him lying alone in a dark tenement house. When Batman found him he took him for dead and went on a wild rampage. You should have seen the scene he left behind him! Smashed doors, broken furniture....

I'd say it's pretty obvious that this is meant by writer Gardner Fox as an homage to that story. Batman does the necessary detective work:

He locates a suspect fitting that description down to the smashed knuckles and after beating him senseless, he drags the villain to Commissioner Gordon. But Gordon has an alibi for the man; he had seen him in a boxing match that evening while Robin was being beaten. Gordon even got the man (Jim Condors) to autograph his program. Condors demonstrates that it was indeed his signature on the boxing program and Commissioner Gordon is forced to release him. Condors leaves with a threat to sue Batman.

But Batman figures out eventually that Condors has a twin brother who actually boxed for him that night. The program was pre-signed (apparently Condors knew Gordon was a fight fan and might ask for an autograph). So while Condors' twin was fighting in the ring, Jim himself was attacking Robin, who had put Condors' twin in jail.

We close with one of Kane's patented punches:

Comments: A satisfying and entertaining story. Kane mostly gets the art right, although he does overdo the expressiveness of Batman's mask:

I would really love to have seen Gil Kane do more Batman, but as far as I know, the two stories in Detective #374 and #371 are all there is (see update below). This story marks the beginning of the real Batman turnaround in the Silver Age.

There's one nice and interesting twist. Batman notes that he has trusted the doctor with Robin's real identity, but the doc simply observes that he doesn't recognize the boy; after all in a city of eight million people....

The Elongated Man story is about the Amazing Crook-Gatcher. A young man has invented a gun that will fire a tranquilizer bullet that seeks out a fleeing criminal by the speeded-up heartbeat and nervous sweat of a man when he commits a crime.

Charles Bryant wants to become a police officer, but he's too short for the position. So he became an inventor, hoping to impress the local chief into letting him join the force. As it happens Ralph Dibny is present when the young man explains his invention. They discuss the implications of the gun when they come upon a bank robbery in progress. Charley aims his gun at the crooks even though there's a girl in between:

And sure enough the bullet avoids the girl and hits the crook. Ralph subdues the others and the newspapers report about the spectacular success of the new invention. But when Ralph visits his wife, Sue points out that Charley is now in great danger since the local hoods will probably stop at nothing to prevent the cops from getting his Crook Gatcher (I guess the idea is a combination of "catcher" and "gat").

When Ralph visits the young man's apartment, he discovers the young gal who had been in the middle of the shootup. She turns out to be Charles' girlfriend and reveals that crooks have kidnapped her boyfriend and that the Crook Gatcher doesn't really work. Fortunately some of the gang members return for some of Charles' equipment, and Ralph is able to track them to their hideout. The crooks have kept him alive because he has promised to create a Cop Gatcher.

Ralph, knowing that the Crook Gatcher was fake, bursts in and fights the gang, but Charles is dismayed that the Elongated Man is ruining his plan. It turns out that in the equipment that the crooks brought to Charley were tear gas and a cattle prod that he could have used to subdue the gang. As for the Crook Gatcher, it was a magic trick:

The cops agree to hire Charley for their crime lab, where ironically one of his first assigments is to create a Crook Gatcher for real.

Comments: An entertaining story. Sid Greene does a great job of inking Mike Sekowsky's pencils.

Update: There is at least one more Batman story drawn by Gil Kane; Batman #208 was a giant-sized comic with a continuing story of an elderly mystery woman who introduces herself and the rest of the women in Batman's life, and reveals that she herself is the most important woman. At the end it is explained that she's a Mrs. Chilton and that she raised Bruce after his parents were killed. Even more shocking is that her son had changed his name slightly, to Joe Chill, the murderer of Thomas and Martha Wayne.