Spinner Rack: Batman's First Case (Part Two)

Posted by Joanna Sandsmark on 3/6/2012

What story is good enough to tell three times? What story is so compelling that every generation must have its own version?

Last month, we began reading about Batman's first case. A quick review of where this came from: The original story, which appeared in Star Spangled Comics #74, starred Robin in a fight against the Clock in 1947. Twelve years later, in 1959, it became a Batman story fighting against the Clock. Very little changes between the two stories other than the protagonist. Because the story apparently wasn't told often enough, it was then reprinted in Giant Batman #147 in 1967.

The story begins with a statue of Batman being destroyed and a goofy villain, whom Batman recognizes, getting away. Turns out the Clock was Batman's first case. We were treated to a lovely flashback of that case and then we returned to present day. That's where we left off.

Robin, having just listened to the story, says, “I remember Kyle now! I read about him in your diary — and how you later finally caught your parents' killer — what now?” In this startling word bubble, we find out that Robin reads Batman's diary. There are two bizarre pieces of information in that sentence. A) Batman keeps a diary and B) Robin reads his diary. What if the diary fell into the wrong hands? And what kind of things does he write about in his diary? Does he talk about his feelings? Does he mention that cute girl he saw at the millionaire's ball? Does he only discuss cases? And how strange that he lets Robin read his diary. We have to assume he gave Robin permission and it wasn't the Boy Wonder sneaking into Batman's private diary safe, because otherwise Robin wouldn't mention it in front of Batman. Perhaps if he had said, “I read about him in your crime journal,” I wouldn't think anything of it. I guess it's the word “diary” that conjures up the image of a teenage girl who dots her i's with hearts, instead of a dark and brooding, costumed crime fighter.

I need to move on, but I have one final question. Is this diary ever mentioned again? I don't own the original Robin story, but it might make more sense if it were Robin who kept a diary and Batman who read it. Since everything is opposite in this story, maybe that's where it came from. I'm just speculating now. I wonder if the diary is pink?

OK, this time I really am moving on, I promise.

Batman decides to question the Clock's ex-cellmate Tom Rogers, who was coincidentally released at the same time as Kyle. Wonder how often that happens! Rogers is quite forthcoming to Batman. He said that when he and the other cons went to the prison library to learn a trade so they could go straight, Kyle would laugh at them. Kyle bragged about never going straight. Apparently, he spent his time in the prison library learning about clocks, “…and how to use them to get even with Batman!”

Rogers asks Kyle, “Clocks? Why clocks?” (Excellent question.) “Because Batman made me do time in prison!” Really? That's why you spent all of your time learning about clocks? You didn't learn about time and its theoretical qualities. No, you learned about clocks. I wonder if watches fall under that heading or do you just mean non-wearable clocks? Man, that is one feeble raison d'être, Clocky old boy.

The warden tells Batman that he started serving his time at exactly three o'clock and that's why he wants to kill Batman at three. Meanwhile, in his lair, Kyle, a.k.a. The Clock, sits in a big wooden chair (that one could call a throne) surrounded by different clocks and thinks about the plot of the story. “I was Batman's first case — and I'll be his last, too!” Nice of him to sum all that up.

When Batman and Robin are on patrol, they notice a message on the giant clock atop the Gotham Watch Company. “It is time for me to make the tiniest clock crime.” (I don't know about you, but I'm getting kind of sick of the word clock right about now.) Batman and I are both wondering what the tiniest clock crime is going to be.

“Meanwhile, disguised and posing as a reporter, the Clock is taken on a tour of the watch company in that very building…” The man giving the tour says that every worker has to “undergo a galvometer test to determine his acid condition because too much acid quickly rusts and damages watch works.” Now I'm suddenly wondering if I'm too acidic to work in a watch factory. I will admit I have never wondered this before.

Suddenly, the fake reporter empties his pockets, which are full of orange peels. He throws them in the watch works and cackles over their acidity. He also does a quick change because he's dressed in a reporter's suit, overcoat and hat in one panel and in the next he's wearing his villain costume. While the workers are picking up orange peels, he steals a bunch of tiny watch screws. I wonder if he's ruined the screws by touching the orange peels? I also wonder why no one in the factory has noticed that a guy with a weird yellow and purple costume with a cape is over there stealing things while they pick up a handful of orange peels. These clock workers are not very observant. (I have to say that tossing some orange peels around does not ring the bell of villainy nearly as much as some, er, most… all — let's admit it — as all of Batman's other foes.)

Luckily, Batman and Robin come leaping. In the panel, the Clock loses his watch. Robin shouts, “Look! Batman, you surprised him so much, he doesn't have time on his hands anymore — not even on his wrist!” Then below that piece of dialogue is a word box with a little arrow pointing to the fallen wristwatch. The box says, “Watch that fallen wristwatch! In time, it will prove most important!” Redundant? Oh yeah. We have a drawing of the watch falling off, Robin telling us about the watch falling off, and then a text box telling us about the watch falling off. I have a feeling the watch falling off might be important. Just a hunch.

The Clock jumps out the window and lands on a scaffolding in front of the clock on the watchtower. To his chagrin, Batman and Robin are right behind him as bad puns clutter the word balloons. The Clock throws a bucket at Batman, who ducks, but Robin isn't so quick and gets a face full of it. Batman saves Robin, and the Clock makes his escape.

Batman and Robin wonder why he stole a bunch of tiny screws. “For ransom! Those watch screws are so tiny, only experts can make them! They're worth over $100 an ounce — and he stole pounds of them!” I wonder what those watch screws are worth now. If they were $100 an ounce in 1959 (and for all we know the quote was from the Robin story in the 40s), they must be worth a fortune nowadays.

Batman retrieves the fallen wristwatch. The Clock lost his wristwatch? How amazing! I had no idea! In the Batcave, he looks at the microscopic dust inside the watch and finds “the usual tobacco and fiber dust.” (Nowadays, you'd never be able to mention that someone might possibly smoke, not even a villain.) The big news is an unusual amount of flour dust in the watch. Robin instantly figures out his hideout must be in the old flour mill outside of town. Again, an abandoned building becomes a hideout. If Gotham paid more attention to its abandoned real estate, there would be no place for villains to hide.

Batman and Robin trip an alarm as they enter the mill and get knocked out with sacks of flour. This is not their shining hour. There's a visible tripwire, a couple of sacks of flour above them, and yet they can't figure out how to step aside? And of course the Clock doesn't shoot them or kill them quickly. No, he has to have an elaborate death machine. Batman is tied up and hung beneath a clock that shows five minutes before three o'clock. Meanwhile, Robin is tied up to a wooden post and unable to free himself. Batman makes yet another bad clock pun and then starts swinging until he hits the brick wall. In his hand is the lost wristwatch. The watch crystal shatters and Batman uses the shard to cut through the ropes.

The Clock races away in his car and there's the explosion. He is certain Batman is dead.

“Sometime later — at Gotham City's Clock Fair…” Really? Gotham City has a clock fair? Who would attend that? Were clocks a really big deal in the 40s and 50s? What an amazing coincidence that all this happened right near the time of the Gotham City Clock Fair. The crowd stands around a giant, oversized pocket watch replica filled with real jewels. The guard helpfully tells people, “Since the gems are large, they are most valuable!” It's good to know. At that moment, the Clock jumps out of an oversized cuckoo clock, throws a smoke capsule and leaps onto the giant pocket watch just as Batman and Robin enter. After everyone explains how they're still alive, a very short fight ensues where Batman traps the Clock in the giant watch's mainspring. “That's quite a sight!” says Robin. “The Clock — caught by a clock!”

Because Batman and Robin are cruel, they visit the Clock in jail and laugh at him. It's always nice to laugh at your foes after defeating them.

It appears that becoming a super villain means finding a ridiculous costume, naming yourself after something, making sure everything you do has to do with that something and carry a lot of orange peels. That's pretty much all you need. Hope to see you next time, where you might learn more about how to be a villain! Woo hoo!

If you'd like to learn more, including a detailed bio and more information about Joanna's books, please visit her website.

This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.

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