Friday, December 12, 2008

"City Without Guns"

Issue: Detective Comics #196

Cover Date: June 1953

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Winslow Mortimer

Synopsis: The story opens with gang boss Frank Lumardi escaping from the Gotham police via a speedboat. One month later, Bruce and Dick arrive in London, with Bruce hoping to study the crime fighting methods of Scotland Yard. Meeting up with Inspector Deggers, Bruce learns of Scotland Yard's no gun policy and sees that on a wall of crime fighter portraits, Batman and Robin's has been ripped from its frame. Deggers is unwilling to divulge any information concerning the portrait and soon departs when an alarm sounds in Leicester Square. Batman and Robin are quick to follow Deggers, discovering that the alarm was sounded due to the theft of an apparently important briefcase. The thieves turn out to be a gang led by Lumardi, who escape when Batman has to prevent a bus struck by a stray bullet from crashing.

Batman and Robin meet up with Deggers, who informs them that the stolen briefcase contained 8,000 pounds (roughly $20,000). While mulling over what to do next without a Batcave, the Dynamic Duo run into Chester Gleek, England's #1 Batman and Robin fan. Lightly dismissing him at first, Chester insists he shows them his laboratory, which turns out to be exactly like the Batcave. After Robin reads a crime file on Lumardi, Chester leads Batman and Robin (passing a portrait of the Duo) to his garage, which houses a replica of the Batmobile. Using their knowledge of Lumardi's love of horse racing, Batman and Robin track down his gang, but the imitation Batmobile is no match for gunfire. Borrowing a horse, the Duo duke it out with the gang at a wax museum, but lose them due to the Pickwick Bicycle Club riding by.

Batman and Robin return to Scotland Yard to confer with Deggers. The defacing of a statue of Isis appears to indicate Lumardi's next crime, but Batman cannot deduce what it might mean. Then Deggers makes a comment about the upper part of the Thames river being referred to as Isis and Batman is able to draw a connection. That night, Lumardi's gang breaks into a Captain Percy's ship on the Thames, which holds an old treasure chest. Batman and Robin were prepared for the gang, subduing all of them except for Lumardi. After a battle with Lumardi in the Oxford belltower, Lumardi stops cold as three riflemen aim in his direction. The trio turns out to be a campus drill team, with Lumardi ironically being apprehended by guns in a city without them. But what of the portrait of Batman and Robin missing from Scotland Yard? It turns out the portrait was originally donated by Chester Gleek, then stolen by him when he saw it hanging beside such "inferior" detectives such as Sherlock Holmes.

Thoughts: If there was one thing Batman did a lot of in the forties and fifties, it was travel. Whether it was traveling through time thanks to Professor Carter Nichols, around the world, or into outer space, Batman and Robin fought injustice wherever (and whenever) it may be. In fact, there were two giant issues published chronicling the Dynamic Duo's travels. The first, Eighty Page Giant #12 from July of 1965, focused on Batman and Robin's travels to strange worlds. The second, Batman #223 from July/August of 1970, focused on adventures spanning the globe. Both contain a number of fun, fifties Batman cases that take Batman out of his normal environment of Gotham City.

"City Without Guns" is one such story, taking Batman across the pond to merry old England. The background mystery of Batman and Robin's missing portrait is a nice supplement to the Lumardi case. Chester Gleek is a fun, fanboy character, although I have to wonder how he was able to replicate a loose version of the Batcave, including the crime file (I fully admit that a previously published story involving the Batcave, a la "The Batman Dime Museum" from 1955, might clear that up). Lumardi being foiled by the drill club in the end was a clever bit on Bill Finger's part. Dick Sprang, as always, provides classic Batman artwork. My favorite panel in the story is that of Batman after Lumardi sets the bells in the bell tower off; the "Bongs" of different sizes and colors surrounding Batman were quite effective. The only flaw in an otherwise classic fifties story is Bruce Wayne possessing a letter of introduction from Commissioner Gordon for Deggers. It wouldn't take much detective work to connect the newly arrived Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to Batman and Robin swinging around London.

*Special thanks to David Morefield for the blog's awesome new banner.

This story has been reprinted in Batman #223, a 64 page giant issue.


Pat said...

It's a generally good story on some of the cultural quirks of England. Try Googling some of the things mentioned in the story, and you'll find that Finger was pretty much on the mark. Rotten Row in Hyde Park was a society riding place (although probably not by 1953), Madame Tussaud's did indeed have lots of death masks and there is a famed Pickwick Bicycle Club where people dress up as characters from Dickens. I could't find any confirmation of the Oxonian Rifle Society, but aside from that the story seems pretty accurate.

On the letter from Commissioner Gordon to Deggers, it does make sense to me. Remember, Bruce is a close friend of the Commish; indeed, although it was never stated as such I suspect Bruce cultivated his friendship as part of his attempt to become a crimefighter. So he gives Gordon some song and dance about how he wants to see Scotland Yard as a tourist, although we know he really wants to learn about their methods (although you'll note that they don't actually learn much).

Chris said...

I totally agree with Bruce getting the letter from Gordon from Deggers as they're friends. The flaw I see, however, is Bruce and Dick making themselves known to Deggers when Batman and Robin are likely to swing around London. It wouldn't take too much detective work to put two and two together.

(I now realize this wasn't clear in the original post, so I've modified it.)

CMN said...

This story came out around the time I was born (April 53). Great cover and would love to read the story one day. Just one question though: when B & R are flying thru the air hanging to one end of their ropes, just what are the other ends attached to?

Chris said...

As it turns out, Alfred is a lot stronger than anyone gave him credit for.

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