A Tribute to the of

With some reluctance I recently purchase a copy of Detective #27. No, not THE Detective #27, though you could be forgiven for the error. After all, when I asked at my local comic shop the proprietor misunderstood, too. “Nope. Don’t have it.” “Huh. I thought it was out. Are you sold out?” “Oh-h-h-h-h…” Trust me when I say my typical weekend garb would certainly not make me look like I had the sort of bankroll to pick up a copy of THE Detective #27, as nice as that would be. Anyway, I’d heard some of the hoopla about it and knew that Neal Adams had drawn one of the stories, so, okay. I’ll take the gamble. $8.95?! Well, okay…but it seems a lot to pay even for a “Mega-sized” book.

I read through it in a couple of sittings and as the old joke goes, it had its moments, but they were only moments. I liked some of the art and a couple of the storylines were clever. Props to Mike W. Barr for including a shout out to Bill Finger in his story and Mike Allred’s Adam West Batman was spot on, but overall, as is usually the case, I was disappointed in another modern offering.

With that in mind, I thought I’d pull a Silver Age issue of Detective Comics off the shelf and see how things were done back in the day. Issue #344 from October of 1965 looked to be a likely candidate. The Grand Comics Database tells us that Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella rendered the cover, with long time ghost Shelly Moldoff on interior pencils with Joe Giella inks despite the Bob Kane credit on the splash page and Julie Schwartz editing. Gardner Fox wrote “The Crime-Boss Who was Always One Step Ahead of Batman!

Things begin on a dark Gotham City night when the Batmobile is on patrol with the Dynamic Duo inside. They eventually come upon “Apple Alice,” a kindly elderly woman who has been supplying the Boy Wonder with a crisp apple when spotting them on their rounds. Tonight, however, something is amiss. She appears nervous and Batman spots a sinister looking figure in the shadows who seems to be observing them. He whispers to Robin to take the fruit, but only feign biting into it. Taking his cue, the young daredevil fakes agonized pain and Batman seemingly tears off to get his partner to a hospital. In actuality, they’ve parked out of sight to see what the skulking figure is up to.

They tail him to a building and taking to the rooftop, Batman lowers himself via “Bat-rope” to observe through the window as the mysterious man reports to someone else. Using lip-reading, the World’s Greatest Detective deciphers that with Batman and Robin out of the way, they can begin their caper. Batman uses sign language to tell Robin to go and find the car while our hero continues his surveillance.

Robin conceals himself in the trunk of the exotic “Ferragon” auto and once they reach their destination is commanded to emerge. The armed men then inform him that their boss, Johnny Witts, anticipated the stowaway maneuver. Robin will not so easily be put down, though and leaps into the fray until being led to a concealed pit, again the work of the seemingly prescient Johnny Witts.

Part II brings us back to the downtown building where Johnny himself addresses the suspended Batman outside his window, informing him that Robin had been captured. He then draws the Dark Knight’s attention to the roof where a henchman stands poised with a knife to cut the rope if Batman refuses to come into Witt’s apartment. Witts further explains that “Apple Alice” was one of his gang and that he’s perpetually a step ahead of the Masked Manhunter. He steps outside the door and is quickly followed by the Gotham Goliath, who steps out into empty space. It’s a trap in the form of an empty shaft, a direct take off of the cover, but Batman uses his athletic prowess to hit the opposite wall with enough force to use it to do a reverse somersault back to the open door where he hangs on for dear life.

Johnny says he’d expected this move and then proceeds to kick the door, gradually loosening our hero’s grip. Calling again on his finely conditioned body, the Cowled Crusader manages to get a grip on the base of the doorway, which, of course, causes Witts to say he knew that was the next move. The criminal then heads for the rooftop and retrieves Batman’s rope so that he can make his getaway.

Later, Batman and Robin are reunited in the famed Batcave, where the World’s Greatest Detective is busily working on deducing the real identity of “Apple Alice.” Batman is convinced she’s a younger woman in disguise, so he’s putting together a composite of her face with different facial features using the Beaulieu System. A handy editorial note gives the details: “Developed by Louis Beaulieu of the Paris Surete and now used by Interpol (International Organization of Criminal Police) to reconstruct the composite face of a wanted person!” You could always count on Gardner Fox to educate you along the way in his stories.

Batman quickly comes up with a sketch of the lovely young lady and visits the local fashion houses to see if it will yield any leads. It doesn’t take long when the face is recognized as Flo Purcell, who will be back to the establishment later to collect a new outfit. Batman requests that a bug be placed on the garment and the disguised crime-busters follow her discreetly the rest of the afternoon.

Flo ultimately ends up at a brownstone and Johnny Witts and his gang arrive soon after. He gloats that his crime went off without a hitch thanks to the diversion of the Dynamic Duo following Flo. He even announces to the concealed heroes that he knows they’re nearby and that they’ve been duped. The pair emerge, but Batman counters Witts’ usual boast of his being a step ahead by telling him that all he has to do is whistle to summon the nearby police. Johnny calls what he considers a bluff and the Batman issues a piercing whistle which is followed immediately by voices calling for surrender. The panicked gang rush to apprehend Batman and Robin to use them as bargaining chips, but Johnny Witts cautions them that it won’t work that way and he needs to think of a way out.

As if to illustrate the crime-boss’ admonition, Batman and Robin quickly subdue his gang and Johnny Witts finds himself unable to think up a way to stop the onslaught. Soon the police arrive and haul him off to jail where he finally comes up with a solution, but it does him no good behind bars. Still, he feels satisfied that when they meet up again, he’ll be prepared.

In the final panel, Robin is congratulating his mentor on having the foresight to provide a tracking device concealed in his own uniform for the police to home in on and another case is solved by the World’s Greatest Detective and his sidekick.

I continue to get a great deal of enjoyment out of Gardner Fox’s storytelling. As mentioned above, there’s inevitably something for the trained attorney to teach us in his scripts and they’re usually not easily figured out ahead of time thanks to his plot twists and pacing, even when a run-of-the-mill guy in a suit and bow-tie is the antagonist. Shelly Moldoff’s art is good, but not one of my favorites. Joe Giella’s inking is always an excellent complement to Shelly’s pencils, however and I grade this story a 6 on the 10-point scale.

As we get closer to Batman’s 75 year anniversary we’ll continue to honor one of our favorite characters. If you’ve got a particular favorite tale of the Dark Knight you’d like to see highlighted, just let me know at: professor_the@hotmail.com.


Long live the Silver Age!

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