Wednesday, January 7, 2009

"The First Batman"

Issue: Detective Comics #235

Cover Date: September 1956

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Stan Kaye

Cover Artist: Sheldon Moldoff






Synopsis: One day, while Bruce and Dick are cleaning out the attic in Wayne Manor, Dick accidently touches a hidden spring in a desk that had belonged to Bruce's father. A secret compartment is revealed, and Bruce reaches in it to pull out...a bat costume! The gears start to turn in Bruce's mind, as he remembers seeing the costume on his father when he was a child. Dick remarks that this means Thomas Wayne was a Batman before Bruce, but Bruce responds that that's impossible, as he became Batman many years after his parents death. Returning to the compartment, Bruce discovers a film reel and a diary. The film reveals that Thomas Wayne had been at a masquerade ball, the theme of which was flying creatures, when he was forced to leave by gunmen who had need of a doctor. The diary continues the story, revealing that Thomas Wayne had been taken to remove a bullet from a bank robber named Lew Moxon.

Knowing that Moxon would not let him live after the operation, Thomas Wayne knocks Moxon's chair out from under him and punches out his cohorts. Moxon is arrested by the police and sentenced to ten years in prison. Thomas Wayne runs into Moxon after his sentence ends, with Moxon telling Thomas that he'll be hiring someone to kill him in return for putting him in jail. The diary holds two revelations for Bruce: that the bat who had burst through his window subconsciously reminded him of his father in a "Bat-Man" costume and that the murder of his parents at the hands of Joe Chill had not been a holdup, but a hired killing. Bruce also realizes that he was left alive to serve as a witness, preventing Moxon from being connected with th killing. Bruce tells Dick to don his Robin costume, announcing that the Wayne Murder case has been reopened.

Through Commissioner Gordon's police contacts, Batman and Robin learn that Lew Moxon is living in Coastal City, running a billboard blimp business. The Dynamic Duo fly there via Batplane and a fight ensues between them, Moxon, and his men when they arrive. Batman and Robin of course come out on top and take Moxon to the local police station, where he tells them he has never heard of Thomas Wayne. He even agrees to a lie detector test and ends up passing. Confused by this turn of events, Batman telephones Comissioner Gordon and discovers that Moxon received a head injury from an automobile accident, resulting in amnesia. Batman and Robin follow Moxon's blimp, knowing they wouldn't have been jumped by Moxon's men unless he was involved in criminal activities, and catch Moxon's men right in the act. With the evidence they need, Batman and Robin go to confront Moxon, with Robin remarking that Bruce should don a spare Batman costume after the wear his current one has suffered. Without a spare Batman costume, Bruce puts on his father's bat costume (he had brought it along because it made him feel that his father was on the case with him). When Bruce confronts Moxon, the sight of Thomas Wayne's costume restores his memory and he runs away thinking that it is Thomas back from the dead. He is so griped by fear that he doesn't notice his surroundings and is hit by a truck, bringing an end to the Wayne Murder Case once and for all.

Thoughts: This story completes a Batman origin trilogy (to borrow a phrase from Bill Jourdain of The Golden Age of Comics podcast) of sorts that ran throughout the Golden and Silver Ages, all written by Bill Finger. The first part of this trilogy was the two page story "The Batman and How He Came To Be" from Detective Comics #33. While only two pages long, it contained all the elements of the Batman origin: the death of Bruce's parents in front of his eyes after a movie, Bruce's oath to avenge his parents' deaths, his training, "Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot", and of course, the bat crashing through the window. The second part of the trilogy is "The Origin of The Batman" from Batman #47. In this story, Batman discovers that is parents' killer was Joe Chill, confronts him, and is able to gain a degree of closure concerning the deaths of his parents. The story synopsised above completes the trilogy, revealing more information concerning the death of the Waynes, how Bruce's father influenced him becoming Batman, and brought a greater sense of closure to the Wayne murder case. Bill Jourdain covered all three stories in great detail in Episode 27 of the Golden Age of Comic Books podcast which you can listen to here.

As for "The First Batman" itself, it is undoubtably a classic Batman story. It fleshes out Batman's origins even further and strengthens the bond between Bruce and his father. What was initially inspiration due to a bat flying through a window is added upon, becoming a subconscious inspiration from Bruce's memories of his father. This story is also a lot more serious in tone compared to the stories from this period. Instead of a story adding a member to the Bat Family or Batman visiting an alien world, we see a return to the grim Dark Knight. Armed with new information concerning his parents' death, Bruce is filled with a burning desire to close the Wayne Murder Case once and for all, and it is no laughing matter. While the story is for the most part serious, there is one appropriate lighhearted moment; Bruce enthusiastically cheering his dad on as he lands a punch on one of the gunmen at the ball. For a split second, the mask of Batman is gone, and Bruce is a happy kid again. But only for a moment.

This story has been reprinted in Batman Annual #4, Batman #255, Batman: Secrets of The Batcave TPB, The Best of DC #2, and The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told (1988).

4 comments:

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Pat said...

What I like about this story was the extra layering onto the origin that was going on in the entire Batman series around then, especially in the Detective issues. Tec #205: More details about the Batcave. Tec #226:
Teenage Bruce learns to be a detective. Tec #227: Bruce learns makeup and disguises. Tec #235: Bruce's father the first Batman. Tec #244: Bruce learns to throw boomerangs (in preparation for batarangs).

cmn said...

Just read a Raymond Chandler short story ("Spanish Blood") where one of the low rent gangsters went by the name of Joey Chill. He also had brother and sister Chills. The story was written in the 1930's.

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