This eighth volume of chronological Batman yarns from the dawn of his career covers Batman #14-15, Detective Comics #71-74 and World’s Finest Comics #8-9, and once again features adventures produced during the scariest days of World War II.
It’s certainly no coincidence that many of these Golden Age treasures are also some of the best and most reprinted tales in the Batman canon, as lead writer Bill Finger was increasingly supplemented by the talents of Don Cameron, Jack Schiff and Joe Samachson and the Dynamic Duo became a hugely successful franchise. The war seemed to stimulate a peak of creativity and production, with everybody on the Home Front keen to do their bit – even if that was simply making kids of all ages forget their troubles for a brief while…
Cameron wrote all four stories in Batman #14 (December 1942-January 1943) which leads off this volume. ‘The Case Batman Failed to Solve’, (illustrated by Jerry Robinson) is a superb example of the sheer decency of the Caped Crusader as he fudges a mystery for the best possible reason, ‘Prescription for Happiness’ (with art by Bob Kane & Robinson), is a classic example of the human interest drama that used to typify Batman tales as a poor doctor discovers his own true worth, and ‘Swastika Over the White House!’ (Jack and Ray Burnley) is typical of the spy-busting action yarns that readers were gratuitously lapping up at the time. The final story ‘Bargains in Banditry!’ – also by the Burnley boys – is another canny crime caper featuring the Penguin.
Detective Comics #71 (January 1943, by Finger, Kane and Robinson) featured ‘A Crime a Day!’, one of the most memorable and thrilling Joker escapades of the period, whilst ‘Brothers in Law’ from the Winter 1942 World’s Finest Comics #8, by Schiff and the Burnleys, pitted Batman and Robin against a Napoleon of Crime and feuding siblings who had radically differing definitions of justice.
Detective Comics #72 by Samachson, Kane & Robinson, found our heroes crushing murderous con-men in ‘License for Larceny’ whilst Batman #15 (February-March 1943) lead with Schiff, Kane & Robinson’s Catwoman romp ‘Your Face is your Fortune!’ whilst Cameron and those Burnley boys introduced plucky homeless boy Bobby Deen ‘The Boy Who Wanted to be Robin!’ The same team created the powerful propaganda tale ‘The Two Futures’, which examined an America under Nazi subjugation and ‘The Loneliest Men in the World’ (Cameron Kane & Robinson) was – and still is – one of the very best Christmas Batman tales ever created; full of pathos, drama, fellow-feeling and action…
Cameron, Kane & Robinson went back to basics in Detective Comics #73 (March 1943) when ‘The Scarecrow Returns’, a moody chiller followed by the introduction of comical criminal psychopaths ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee!’ in #74, and this volume concludes with the Batman portion of World’s Finest Comics #9 (Spring 1943) as Finger, Robinson & George Roussos recounted the saga of a criminal mastermind who invented the ‘Crime of the Month!’ scheme.
This wonderful series of Golden Age greats is one of my absolute favourite collected formats: paper that feels nostalgically like newsprint, vivid colours applied with a gracious acknowledgement of the power and limitations of the original four-colour printing process and the riotous exuberance of an industry in the first flush of success. These tales from the creators and characters at their absolute peak are even more readable now that I don’t have to worry about damaging an historical treasure simply by turning a page. I’m still praying that other companies with an extensive Golden Age back-catalogue like Marvel and Archie will follow suit.
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