A Tribute to the of

They're just going to miss it by about a year.  Summer of 2005 is slated to be the premiere of the latest movie in the Batman series.  After a few years now of domination by Marvel on the silver screen (I recently saw my first trailers for "The Punisher"), DC is finally getting back into the game with "Batman Begins."  Dare I hope that it will be better than the last couple of installments?  I mean, Jim Carrey's portrayal of The Riddler was somewhat amusing, but otherwise, "Batman Forever" was a waste of celluloid and don't even get me started on "Batman and Robin."  The term "abomination" comes to mind.  So, it is with some reservation that I look forward to this new offering, which will feature Ra's Al Ghul and The Scarecrow from Batman's rogue's gallery.  Please, let them get it right this time.  Anyhow, back to my original statement.  This month, May of 2004 marks the 65th anniversary of the first appearance of our beloved Dark Knight in the pages of Detective Comics, issue number 27 from May of 1939.  It's a shame the movie won't coincide with Batman's 65th birthday, but we can make sure to mark the event here at the Silver Lantern.  So, without further ado, let's review Detective Comics #387 from May of 1969 when DC marked Batman's 30th anniversary with a story entitled "The Cry of Night is—Sudden Death!"  The story comes courtesy of Mike Friedrich with art by Bob Brown and Joe Giella

We now join Batman and Robin as they begin their dusk patrol.  Soon they're looking in a skylight where Police Commissioner Gordon is personally assisting in a murder investigation.  Gordon coolly lists the facts to the young man in the Nehru jacket and peace sign medallion.  His father has been murdered, he was found with the victim and the weapon is covered in his fingerprints.  The youth angrily protests until the Dynamic Duo makes a dramatic appearance in the room.  The young man utters a sarcastic witticism true to the times:  "Now it really looks like Big Brother and the Holding Company!"  Ha!  You probably don't even appreciate the gag!"  The Dark Knight Detective replies:  "Well, I don't think Janis Joplin would appreciate being called "batty" either—" Batman then asks the Commissioner to fill him in.  Gordon explains the youth is one Mel Lambert and his father, an atomic chemist, is the victim.  They'd received a call from the Lambert butler at police HQ and came to investigate.  He wraps up by saying that all he's heard since his arrival is arrogant language and threatening statements from Mel.  Lambert retorts with "Man, I' m just telling it like it is—it's just like, you've become so warped by the system you just can't dig it—"  An infuriated Robin calls the youth a punk, but he is cut off by his mentor who asks Lambert his side of the story.  He explains that he'd ridden his motorcycle to see his father but was jumped by an unknown assailant and when he regained consciousness he found his father dead, which was also when the butler arrived and discovered Mel there.  The World's Greatest Detective notes the riding gloves hanging from Mel's belt and asks to see them.  Utilizing a magnification device from the famed utility belt, Batman performs a quick analysis of the fireplace poker, aka the murder weapon and determines that it contains no residue from the gloves; therefore the fingerprints pulled from the object could have been there before.  Gordon counters that Lambert was the only one there and the butler saw no one else come in.  Further, there is only one entrance to the study.  Batman replies that there is indeed another entryway.

He soon shows them a doorway behind a bookcase that the caped crime fighters had used to enter the room.  Batman also notes that the door was partially open when they used it.  The Dark Knight concludes his argument by stating that the evidence is strictly circumstantial at this point.  The Commissioner agrees and thinks to himself that it's better for a guilty man to go free than to jail someone innocent.  Batman and Robin then depart and Lambert follows suit.

Later, in the Batcave, Robin makes his feelings known regarding the situation.  He clearly feels that Mel is disrespectful and deserves to be locked away.  Batman responds that their job is to protect the rights of everyone, not just people they like.  Soon the Batmobile is in motion again, as the Dynamic Duo try to locate the killer.  Batman explains that research by the bat-computer indicated that Lambert was a member of a syndicate engaged in important scientific research and his fellow members included Steven Crane, Paul Rogers and Alfred Stryker.  The first stop is the lab of Steven Crane, where the lights are still illuminated. 

Crane says he believes it was Lambert's son who did the deed, based on his behavior toward his father regarding their atomic research in that very lab a few days prior.  Mel accused his father of enabling the "warmongering U.S." to use the products of their research for military purposes.  Crane feels that he could be the next victim.  Batman says they'll do their best to protect him and then they depart.  Robin tells his mentor that this is more evidence against Mel Lambert.  The Dark Knight advises him to not jump too hastily to conclusions, but before the discussion can continue, they hear a cry and a shot from the laboratory.  Quickly they sprint back to the room only to be met by flying bullets.  Both our heroes duck for cover as Batman flings a batarang at the light fixture for further concealment.  They spot the figure leaving through the window.  Robin is certain it's Mel Lambert, while Batman says it's too dark to be sure.  Robin lets fly with another batarang, which misses the suspect, but snags a roll of paper he'd been carrying.  He wants to give chase, but Batman says they need to see if they can help Crane first.  Unfortunately they're too late.  The scientist is dead.  Rushing back outside, Robin points out that a motorcycle track is in evidence, further implicating Mel Lambert.  The Boy Wonder says he's going to send out an A.P.B., but Batman ponders why Mel would want an account of Crane's part in the research.  Robin sees it as obvious.  He desires to destroy all the data.  The World's Greatest Detective, however, has a theory, which he says he'll explain as they head for Paul Rogers' home. 

Rogers, meanwhile, has got wind of things (talk about your grapevine) and is visiting his colleague, Alfred Stryker.  After being buzzed in at Stryker's residence, Rogers is the recipient of a blow from a pistol butt across his head.  When he regains consciousness, the same figure has the business end of the weapon pointed at him and it looks remarkably like Mel Lambert, though the bottom of his face is obscured by a mask in the manner of an old West outlaw.  The terrified Rogers sees Stryker standing impassively in the room as well and shrieks that they're going to be killed.  Stryker merely replies that hysterics won't do any good, as Lambert and Crane are already dead.  At that moment, Batman and Robin burst through a door into the room and after a few deft moves they take down the gunman.  Removal of the mask reveals it isn't Mel Lambert at all.  Rogers asks Stryker how this man got in and why he didn't try to kill the other scientist.  Stryker, scooping up the weapon and training it on Rogers replies that he let him in because he employs him.  Before anything untoward can happen, however, the Dark Knight disarms Stryker and then drops him with a judo toss.  Afterward, Batman fills in the gaps by stating that he'd suspected either Rogers or Stryker when the modus operandi involved an attempt to steal research data that would only be valuable to another member of the research team.  Stryker confirms that he had hoped to claim the discovery as his own and profit by it.  Mel Lambert's behavior provided a nearly perfect cover. 

The final panels show our Gotham Greats headed for home with Robin musing that he was completely wrong to misjudge Mel Lambert because of his impressions of him.  Elsewhere in the city, that same Lambert is having a similar series of thoughts, reconsidering his attitude about Batman and his place in "the system."  Both youths share the notion that they have "some heavy thinkin' to do—

In the last panel we find a memo from the editor of the title, Julius Schwartz, to the readers of Detective Comics:  "Every old-time Batmaniac knows of Batman's creation by teen-age Bob Kane!"  (Funny how they always forget about writer Bill Finger.  –Prof) "DC's current teen-rage, Mike Friedrich, updated this issue's yarn from the very first Batman story ever published (in Detective Comics #27, May 1939).  As a special 30th Anniversary Issue treat, we reprint this historic Batman—beginning on the 2nd page following!"

I've got to admit, this little note caught me completely off guard.  While the story seemed vaguely familiar, it didn't once cross my mind that it was a modernized and somewhat revamped take on the first appearance of Batman, even though I've had the pleasure of reading the story before, thanks to my Bronze Age Famous First Edition reprint of Detective Comics #27 (+ inside front cover), published in 1974.  I thought that was a very ingenious way to mark the 30th anniversary of the World's Greatest Detective and reprinting that original story in the same issue is a masterstroke.  For those reasons alone, this issue deserves a maximum 10 rating, despite the presence of some 60's era jargon that puts my teeth on edge.  I can forgive it a little better this time, as it's more a reflection of the times in the story itself rather than the writer trying to kiss up to the youth culture in the text boxes.  Artist Bob Brown probably best known for his work on Space Ranger and The Challengers of the Unknown, did a very impressive job with Batman and the other citizens of Gotham City.  It was good to see some solid detective work being done, too.

Ordinarily I'd end things there, but this unique issue gives me an excuse to indulge myself, so I'm going to do it.  While I sometimes reference the Golden Age of comics in this feature, I've not yet reviewed a story from that era.  It just didn't seem like the right thing to do on a website that's dedicated to the Silver Age, even though it all began in the late 1930's.  Besides, it pretty well stands to reason that the classic stories of the early days stand easily on their own merits.  Still, this is a golden (pun intended) opportunity to grace this site with a review of the original Batman story that inspired the tale just reviewed and to go through six short pages that made history and a lasting legacy.  Please join me now for "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" by Bob Kane (& Bill Finger).

"The "Bat-Man," a mysterious and adventurous figure fighting for righteousness and apprehending the wrong doer, in his lone battle against the evil forces of society…  His identity remains unknown."

The story begins in the home of Commissioner Gordon, who's entertaining his "young socialite friend, Bruce Wayne."  Bruce is sucking on a pipe while Gordon works on a cigar and the Commissioner mentions that this fellow called the "Bat-Man" puzzles him.  It is then that the telephone rings and Gordon learns that the Chemical King, Lambert, has been stabbed to death and his son's fingerprints are on the knife.  The Commissioner invites Bruce along and they speed to the Lambert mansion.  After visiting the crime scene, Gordon goes to another room in the mansion where a clean-cut but semi-hysterical Lambert proclaims his innocence.  He explains that as he was walking by the library he heard a groan.  Upon entering, he discovered his father on the floor and noticed the safe was open.  He also got the impression that someone had just leaped through the window.  Pulling the knife from his father's body, he heard the man's last words, which were "…contract…contract…" That explains the fingerprints on the murder weapon.  The Commissioner asks if Lambert's father had any enemies or people with interests in his business activities.  The youth recalls his three former business partners, Steven Crane, Paul Rogers and Alfred Stryker.  Just then the phone rings and its Steve Crane, trying to reach the elder Lambert.  Gordon takes the call and learns that Lambert had called Crane the day before and told him of an anonymous threat on his life.  Now Crane has received one, too.  James Gordon tells him to sit tight until the police can get to his house.  Bruce Wayne takes the opportunity to depart and allow the Commissioner to do his work. 

We then segue to the library of Steven Crane, just in time to see an armed figure take his life and then a paper from his wall safe before slipping out the window.  Pulling himself to the rooftop, he meets his accomplice and confirms that he has the paper.  It is only then that they discover they are not alone on the moonlit roof.  The menacing figure of the Bat-Man is there and soon he leaps into action, decking the first hood and sending the second flying with a judo toss.  His gloved (not gauntleted) hand grasps the paper and leaves the roof before the police, who have recently arrived on the scene, can question him. 

Crane's butler informs Commissioner Gordon that Mr. Crane has been murdered.  Gordon says they'll go to Rogers' home next. 

The story fades back to the dark figure of the Bat-Man, who has read the paper.  Smiling grimly, he speeds away in his car (a less than subtle red car that looks nothing like a Batmobile) to an unknown destination.

We now join Rogers, who has learned of Lambert's death by news broadcast.  He's decided to visit Alfred Stryker, but no sooner has the man at the door let him in than he, Jennings, lays him out with a blow from a blackjack.  Jennings then carries Rogers to the basement laboratory and ties him up while cackling to himself that one more is out of the way and soon he'll control everything.  When Rogers comes to, Jennings points out a glass enclosure above his head.  It's a gas chamber that he uses to kill guinea pigs for experiments.  Once he lowers it, the gas will kill Rogers.  Jennings starts the mechanism that lowers the chamber and then exits to turn on the gas.  It is then that the Bat-Man leaps through an open transom, scoops up a wrench from a table and leaps forward before the gas chamber covers Rogers.  The mysterious caped figure then uses a plain old handkerchief to plug up the gas jets before swinging the monkey wrench and shattering the gas chamber.  When Jennings returns, he pulls a gun, but the Bat-Man is too fast for him, administering a flying tackle followed by a left that leaves him in dreamland. 

Moments later, Alfred Stryker arrives and asks Rogers what has happened.  His former colleague informs him that his assistant, Jennings, has tried to kill him.  Stryker quickly pulls a knife and says that he'll finish the job and then drop Rogers' body into the acid tank below.  Once again, it's the Bat-Man to the rescue as he springs from the shadows and disarms Alfred Stryker.  When Rogers asks why he tried to kill him, the Bat-Man, while holding Stryker tightly by the lapels, speaks for the first time:  "This rat was behind the murders!  You see, I learned that you, Lambert, Crane and Stryker were once partners in the Apex Chemical Corporation…Stryker, who wished to be sole owner, but having no ready cash, made secret contracts with you, to pay a certain sum of money each year until he owned the business.  He figured by killing you and stealing the contracts, he wouldn't have to pay this money." 

Following this revelation, Stryker breaks free of the grasp of the Bat-Man and pulls a pistol from his jacket.  A terrific left sends Stryker tumbling over the edge of the platform and into the acid tank.  The Bat-Man merely comments, "A fitting ending for his kind."  He then slips away.

We now switch scenes back to the home of Commissioner James Gordon where Bruce Wayne is again in attendance.  Gordon is relating the story to Bruce, who seems to be fairly bored by it all.  The last two panels, however, let the readers in on a little secret:  Bruce Wayne returns home to his room…a little later his door slowly opens…and reveals its occupant…if the Commissioner could see his young friend now…he'd be amazed to learn that he is the "Bat-Man!"

And there you have it.  The first appearance of "The Bat-Man."  His appearance was slightly different, but not much and his methods haven't changed a lot, either, though he seldom causes the death of his foes in later continuity.  You can see some of the similarities and contrasts between the two stories now and again; it was more than fitting to mark the 30th year of Batman in this fashion.  He remains the longest-running mortal hero in the history of comics and I hope you'll join me in saluting his 65th Anniversary this year.  May the World's Greatest Detective see at least 65 more years!

Remember to return to our little corner of the web in about two weeks for another trek into the great Silver Age of DC comics.  Remember also that I'm just an e-mail away at professor_the@hotmail.com.  See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2004 by B.D.S.

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