A Tribute to the of

It nearly escaped my notice, but thanks to the ever reliable webmaster, I am pleased to bring to your attention that the venerable Detective Comics is celebrating 80 years of publication! The longest running comic book began in 1937 and even though Action Comics #1 from 1938 often steals ‘Tec’s thunder due to a certain superhero’s debut, kicking things off in a big way, Detective is no slouch in the many characters that first saw print within its pages. I won’t do the exhaustive list, but I’ll run down several and it is pretty impressive and we’ve covered a number of them here at the Silver Lantern, both in the pages of the Sage and in the voluminous reference sections right here at your fingertips.

While he’s nearly forgotten, despite the odd appearance here and there, Slam Bradley started in Detective #1 (March, 1937), an earlier effort by the team of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The Crimson Avenger also got his start in Detective as did, of course, our favorite caped crusader, Batman. Detective #27, with that initial Batman adventure, also gave us Commissioner Gordon and later a whole host of other bat allies and villains to include Joe Chill, Hugo Strange, Robin the Boy Wonder, the original Clayface, the Penguin, Two Face, the Riddler, the Red Hood, Firefly, the Mad Hatter, Batwoman, Blockbuster, Batgirl (the Barbara Gordon version who is also celebrating a milestone 50 years) and Man-Bat. Other notables include the Boy Commandos, Pow-Wow Smith and the Martian Manhunter. Oh yes, indeed, Detective Comics has had it going on for decades. As any seasoned fan knows, the company name, DC is straight from the flagship Detective Comics.

With all that rich history to choose from, how does a guy decide? I think I’ll cover a golden age tale from Detective Comics #58 with a publication date of December, 1941. It was written by Bill Finger and like many stories of the day didn’t have a formal title, but is referred to as “One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups of All Time!” and it introduces us to an unlikely, but enduring villain, Mr. Bonfiace, which is a non de plume for the Penguin. The rest of the credits are Fred Ray and Jerry Robinson providing cover art, Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and George Roussos on inks and “Inky” Roussos on letters. Finally, Whitney Ellsworth editing with uncredited (weren’t they all more or less uncredited in the Golden Age?) editors Murray Boltinoff and Mort Weisinger.

Our story begins at an art exhibition where Bruce Wayne and his young ward Dick Grayson are checking things out. At one point a bemused Dick notices a fellow in top hat and tails, standing near a display of a penguin and the comparison is unavoidable. Just then the guards announce that two valuable paintings have been cut from their frames and stolen. Each visitor is searched, including the chap in formal wear, who opens his umbrella to show there’s nothing within its folds, but there is no sign of the canvases anywhere.

Later we find the monocle-wearing figure at a motel where he meets up with “The Boss” and a couple of his men. He suggests the boss is in charge of racketeering and then reveals the half million worth of stolen paintings, rolled up and concealed in the handle of his umbrella. When asked his name, he says there are many, but just call him…penguin.

It isn’t long until the Penguin is calling the shots for the underworld gang and a virtual crime wave is afoot in Gotham City. A bit later, Bruce Wayne encounters the short, pudgy figure at the auction house. Momentarily, the lights go out and the diamond on display has gone missing.

Back at the gang’s HQ, the boss and the Penguin are at odds, so, using a gimmick in his umbrella, the villain shoots his rival and takes over the gang. Later on, a disguised Bruce Wayne is doing some undercover work and listens in on the gang’s evolving plans to steal a jade idol from the same auction house.

That night, the Batman goes into action, ambushing the robbers before they can get away with the idol, but then the Penguin arrives and using another attribute in his bumbershoot, gases the cowled crusader. The idol is retrieved and before they depart, the Penguin activates the alarm. When the police arrive, they find only a groggy Batman and an empty safe. Gotham’s finest then arrange a face to face between Batman and Mr. Boniface. Boniface, or the Penguin, states that Batman has been threatening him and demanding money for protection. Still woozy from the gas, our hero cannot adequately defend himself and is taken away by the authorities.

Shortly, the Penguin’s gang arranges a little collision with the police and snatch the Batman back. When he is brought before the Penguin, the criminal explains that he’ll collect the insurance on the idol while Batman is now a fugitive and suspect. Batman concedes the fix he’s in. If he stays, he’s assumed guilty, but if he escapes, he could be shot down by the police. The gang binds the Batman in a chair, but he uses a communication device in the heel of one boot (calling Maxwell Smart!) and taps out a Morse code message to Robin.

The Boy Wonder makes his way to the hideout and frees the Batman and the battle is on. The Dynamic Duo have the upper hand when the Penguin holds them at umbrella point and then calls the police to come take care of matters. Batman and Robin take it on the lam.

Next, the Penguin has a new caper to knock over the diamond exchange. Fortunately a disguised Batman and Robin witness the goings on and change into their costumes to take on the Penguin once and for all. Another battle takes place and the Penguin takes to his heels, ultimately escaping thanks to the abrupt appearance of a train, separating him from the caped crusaders, but in the final panel, while Batman has been exonerated, he predicts they will meet up with the Penguin again.

Certainly that would continue to be the case over and over in the decades to come, when the Man of 1,000 umbrellas would continue to be a thorn in the side of the Gotham Goliath.

This story is obviously a classic, introducing the latest enduring member of Batman’s rogue’s gallery after the Joker and Catwoman and while it was only 13 pages long, it set the stage for many a confrontation that continues to the present. In fact, if you’ve not had the opportunity, I invite you to check out the hit television series, Gotham, where the Penguin is the stand-out villain.

Also, just as a little head’s up, be on the lookout for BACK ISSUE #97, coming out in June that will have my full article on a history of this classic villain.

The webmaster and I tip our hats to you for joining us for another installment here at the Silver Age Sage and hope you’ll continue to enjoy the reviews and other information that will continue to be presented. As always, feel free to fire off a note to my handy e-mail with any thoughts or questions: professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you again on the 15th and remember…

Long live the Silver Age!

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