Sunday, 23 August 2020

Batman The Golden Age Vol 2


Dark Knight Rising

Batman The Golden Age Vol 2
by Bob Kane, Bill Finger + Various
DC Comics
ISBN: 978-1401268084


Okay, so following my review of the first year in the career of Gotham’s first knight The Batman and his loyal chum Robin, The Boy Wonder in Batman - The Golden Age Vol 1 (reviewed here), I’ve finally read through the second year from December 1940 through to ‘Fall’ of 1941 in Batman - The Golden Age Vol 2. Now, this one collects the caped crusader’s appearances chronologically in all the issues of Detective Comics (where DC gets its name from), Batman Comic and World’s Finest Comics.

A note on that third title... this issue covers the first three issues of World’s Finest but the first issue was titled World’s Best Comics. Like the title was always known for, it features both Batman and Superman on the cover (and Robin) but, unlike the comic which springs to mind whenever the title is invoked, these weren’t team-up stories between Batman and Superman as they grew to be. Instead, each character set had their own stories within the comic so, yeah, the stories published in this volume are the Batman and Robin stories only, obviously.

Okay, so I talked about, in my last Golden Age Batman review, how Robin and self censorship had brought a more wholesome approach to the stories with the odd slip or pre-Robin appearance re-labelling here and there. This collection continues that approach and there’s not a whole lot to say about it... the stories are quite inconsequential for the most part, asides from the fact that the newly established running villains like The Joker would often return. The tales are short but the majority of them at this point are far less bloodthirsty and certainly far less whimsical than what the strip had quite quickly devolved into towards the end of the first year. That being said, there is still one story where our heroes are transported by a fantastical inventor into the pages of a book of fairy tales to rescue his daughter.

The stories may still be simplistic but the various descriptions and ‘turns of phrases’ employed by the writers at this time are anything but. For example, when Batman and Robin drop some cloth on some bad guys in a warehouse, we are told... “A Niagara of silk engulfs the thieves.” Also, I learned something from the comic in terms of language origins too. I’ve always known of the phrase when something is ‘plummeting’ to the ground but, here in the 1940s, Batman regularly, every other issue, ‘Drops like a plummet’, with plummet as a noun, which obviously extends from the use of ‘plumb bob’, although I’d never put two and two together in my mind before.

Also, the Batman is now, despite the tightrope of atmosphere that the stories tend to walk, commonly being referred to as The Dark Knight on many occasion. That is, when he’s not being described in more flowery language thusly...

“For he, in reality, is that personality known as the ‘eyes of night’... The Batman.”

The artwork is still simplistic and, many times in these early issues, the bat symbol is not always pictured on Batman’s chest in every frame. It’s like the artist just forgets sometimes. It’s also littered with references to contemporary culture but, somehow, they are often somewhat quite guarded and depicted as parodies of the real thing, such as when a cinema is depicted playing “Melody Of 1941” starring Tyrone Taylor and Myrna Rogers.

The Batmobile finally gets defined into the one generally depicted as its earliest incarnation here. For about a half of the year it still normal looking cars in different colours and sometimes open topped, sometimes covered. After a while though, we get that closed top, chunky Batmobile I always liked with the big fins and the Batman mask at the front like a gigantic hood ornament. Still no sign of the Batcave yet, though... Batman has a secret passage to a barn (the Batcave wouldn’t come until 1944, apparently).

Most of the villains are not that memorable and even The Joker is a bit pedestrian in his approach to crime, despite multiple appearances which, at this time, seem mostly saved back for the multi-story Batman issues rather than having him appear in the 'one off' stories in Detective Comics. Hugo Strange is here though and he uses a fear gas completely reminiscent of what the villainous Scarecrow is now famous for. Oddly enough, the Scarecrow’s first appearance, which I think I first read reprinted in a 100 Page Giant of Detective Comics back in the 1970s, is in issue number three of Worlds Finest and in it he absolutely has no ‘fear gas’ at all. It’s obvious by this time, though, that the writers were beginning to think more of recurring villains because he doesn’t meet an untimely demise at the end of the story.

Something else I noticed was, despite having Robin and all the ‘wholesome’ baggage that was ushered into the comic with him... and the fact that it’s quite often stated that “The Batman and Robin do not kill”, I did notice a few deaths here and there that each of these heroes have caused as an immediate consequence of their actions. For example, in Detective Comics Issue 55, Batman quite happily punches enemy agents off the roof of their dirigible to drop to their death below (presumably by dropping like a plummet, as is indicated so many times in the stories this year).

So, yeah, the tales covered in Batman The Golden Age Vol 2 don't make for the most memorable period for Batman and is not often as surreal or dark edged as the interesting ones from his 1939 beginnings... the stories are mostly flat and simplistic and the artwork is... well it’s not as bad as many of the comics at the time but it’s similarly not often anything to write home about. I get the feeling the writers and artists are just coasting on their good sales but I suspect the next couple of volumes of this will make an interesting contrast, as more regular characters and hopefully more convoluted plot lines may surface. We shall see, I guess.

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