What story is good enough to tell three times? What story is so compelling that every generation must have its own version?
This story is a little different than some of the others I've done in the past. It's a reprint of a Silver age rewrite of a Golden age story. The original story, which appeared in Star Spangled Comics #74, starred Robin in a fight against The Clock. That was in 1947. Now fast forward to 1959, a mere 12 years later, and it becomes a Batman story fighting against The Clock. Very little changes between the two stories other than the protagonist. And because the story apparently wasn't told often enough, it is then reprinted in Giant Batman #147 in 1967. What story is good enough to tell three times? What story is so compelling that every generation must have its own version? What story is goofy enough for me to write about? Why, that would be “Batman's First Case.” According to the opening blurb this is a “…story that has never been revealed until now…” After everything I just told you about the repetitive printing of this story, they had the gall to say it was a story that had never been told before? I can't believe they would lie to children! Okay, so lying to children is something every adult does. Maybe we should we move on.After a cool splash page (and a big fat lie about it having never been told before – did the parenthesis fool you into thinking I had moved on and this was just an afterthought?) the story begins with the unveiling of a statue of Batman holding a giant clock. Written on the clock is, “At exactly 3 PM I, The Clock, will climax my clock crimes by destroying Batman!” (I defy you to find a modern comic that has used the phrase “climax my clock crimes.” You just can't find that kind of deliciously delightful and alluringly alliterative writing anymore.) The mayor, who unveiled the statue, is less interested in alliteration than in the threat to Batman's life. Suddenly the giant statue collapses. Batman shouts, “Look out! The statue's collapsing!” In the Golden and Silver ages, one must never expect the illustrations to tell the story without word balloons redundantly explaining what's going on in the panel. I think it was the law or something.A close-up of the villain shows a wild-eyed, crazy-looking man in yellow spandex, purple cape, belt, and gloves (with a matching purple motorcycle), and a yellow hood with an arrow pointing at his face. On his chest is a white clock showing the time to be somewhere around 1 o'clock. That is, the minute hand is pointing straight up, but the hour hand is between 12 and 1. I have no idea what time that is. I think the Clock King needs to go back to uniform school because this is a weird outfit. His clock shirt doesn't tell good time, his hat arrow points at his nose and his belt looks something like a ruler. I would make fun of the purple and gold color scheme, but those were my high school colors so I’m genetically predisposed to not only like them, but hear distant cheers in the back of my brain, like one of those echoey refrains in horror movie soundtracks. Not sure why it’s so creepy. Probably because this doofus in my school colors is a villain.The Clock explains the demise of the statue telling us that a timer released acid that destroyed the statue. He then tells Batman he's going to kill him at 3 o'clock. Batman and Robin give chase, but The Clock King leaps onto his purple motorcycle and rides away. Robin is apparently quite impressed and says, “No use, Batman — he planned his getaway perfectly!” I don't know that I'd consider riding off on a purple motorcycle as “perfect” but it was effective. Batman, instead of giving chase, decides to have a flashback to his first case.We get quite a bonus here because Batman doesn't just think of his first case, he spends a full page running through his entire origin story. His parents get killed, he cries, he studies criminology, he does gymnastics and boxing and trapeze work, tries to think of a disguise and comes up with it when a bat flies through his window. “Thus was born a weird figure of night — the Batman!” Finally, we get to that first case. He sees a thief sneaking into a warehouse and decides that while he's looking for his parents’ killer he can certainly fight crime at the same time. Great to know his life’s work and over 70 years of comic history were basically an afterthought. On top of the Gotham silverware building he sees a crook in an orange pinstripe suit. It’s nice to see the criminal element dressing up to commit their crimes. Forget the black shirt and pants with a Halloween mask, it’s strictly suit and tie for Gotham’s gangsters. Batman uses the “silken rope” he added to his equipment to leap between buildings. He swings across the roof and knocks the crook into a giant spoon. The man, who is obviously The Clock , says, “I give up, Mr.! My leg — I can't move it! I think I busted it when I fell!” So Batman, novice crime fighter that he is, decides to take a look at the leg. He bends forward and the crook clocks him, if you'll pardon the pun. When Batman recovers he sees the crook getting away, running on a street that had just been tarred. When he runs down to look at the footprints he sees they have whitish particles embedded in them, obviously transferred from the soles of Clocky’s shoes. A clue! And a chance to use what he learned in chemistry class! (You can see some of the more awkward moments that happen when a Robin story is directly attributed to Batman instead. chemistry class? Really?)It turns out the “whitish particles” were, “… The mineral known as thallium — and thallium is used in the manufacture of glass! So his hideout may be in this abandoned glassworks!” It's amazing how many abandoned manufacturing facilities there are in Gotham city, Metropolis, Central city, Gateway city and so on. I wonder what villains would do without a steady supply of warehouses, factories and abandoned buildings?Batman slips into the building and is immediately caught in a giant net. It turns out our villain figured out that Batman would come after him. “I learned my second lesson!” says Batman. “Never underestimate a criminal!” And now I learned something new. Batman gets out by sticking his hands in a pail full of rouge. The only rouge I'd ever heard of was the kind a woman rubs on her cheeks. This, however, is jeweler’s rouge; it's used to grind and polish optical glass. Batman rubs his hands in the rouge, thinking, “It's so fine, it will be almost like oiling these ropes so that they'll become slippery enough to slide off!” If I ever run into a pail of jeweler’s rouge, I'll know not to rub it on my cheeks. I don't want my cheeks to slide off my face.After escaping, Batman locates the villain upstairs causing our bad guy to think, “The masked guy! He got away!” I love the fact that he doesn't know what to call him other than “the masked guy.” I don't know that his costume is striking fear into the heart of the criminal, but it's certainly getting him recognized easily. Our bad guy shoots at Batman and the Caped Crusader shockingly shatters into a million pieces. As The Clock watches Batman’s disintegrating image, our hero punches the villain from behind. You guessed it: The Clock shot a mirror, not Bats. It is an abandoned glass factory, after all and glass needed to play a role in the story. Although Batman gives a lengthy explanation about the mirror in the doorway, he doesn't explain how he got the door to fly open if he was across the room. Disappointing, but at least we get treated to Batman doing a little smack talk. He ends his long explanation of the mirror with, “Who's the chump now, chump?” He's feeling like a big man now that he solved his first case. It's rare that you get to hear Batman name-calling. Instead of being dark and brooding, he comes off more like a frat boy in tights. I like it. The Adventures of Fratman and Robin! Nah, bad idea.The flashback ends and the story returns to the present day. What marvelous adventure will unravel with Bat’s old foe The Clock now? Here’s a hint: it will involve really tiny screws and orange peels. I’ll let you ponder that until we meet again next month.
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