Saturday, August 29, 2009

"The Case of The Deadly Gems"

Issue: Batman #131

Cover Date: April 1960

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Synopsis: One night in Gotham City finds Batman and Robin recieving important information in the office of Commissioner Gordon. Ted Greaves, a criminal who Batman and Robin captured several years ago, was recently released from prison and has now sent a letter threatening the lives of the owners of the Gotham Gem Company. As the Dynamic Duo arrive at the Company, they witness both a person pushed off of a giant advertising gem and the masked man responsible. The masked man loosens the advertising gem to crush Batman and Robin, but they dodge out of the way just in time. After investigating the roof and discovering a piece of cloth from the assailant's cape, they find they three partners of the firm (John Wilcox, Henry Stubbs, and Ed Carder) around the dead man's body. The dead man turns out to be Clayber, the trio's new partner, and his murderer appears to be the aforementioned Greaves. The letter sent by Greaves explains a plan to murder all of the partners of the Gem Company from youngest to oldest, in ways that match their birthstones. This makes Wilcox the next on Greaves' list and the Dynamic Duo return with him to his home to provide protection.

As Wilcox tries to keep calm by taking a walk on his grounds, he is startled by a loud roar. The roar turns out to belong to a Bengal Tiger, released from its cage by Greaves. After distracting the tiger with his cape, Batman follows Robin's suit and the pair trap the tiger with their bat-ropes. Robin wonders what the connection is between Wilcox's birthstone and the tiger, and Batman obligingly explains that Wilcox's birthstone, the moonstone, is the sacred stone of India. Batman and Robin head next to Stubbs' home, which, being a yacht on land, fits with his aquamarine birthstone. When Greaves arrives, he finds the Dynamic Duo waiting for him in the crow's nest. Needing to make an escape, Greaves throws a green lantern, once again in line with the aquamarine birthstone, on the yacht to start a fire. Batman and Robin let Greaves go and are able to suppress the fire. Afterwards, Batman deduces that Greaves can't be the murderer, since he is color-blind and Stubbs' attacker was able to specifically pick out the green lantern. Robin continues this line of reasoning, coming to the conclusion that it must be one of the remaining partners. The pair's next move is to check on Carder, as the identity of the masked man can't be Wilcox or Stubbs.

When Batman and Robin arrive at Carder's home, they find that Wilcox is also there and that they have been playing cards for the past several hours. Perplexed by this latest development, Robin's comment about nothing fitting anymore makes everything clear to Batman. Later, the Dynamic Duo and the three partners meet at the Gem Company, where Batman reveals that all three of the partners are guilty. Carder shouts to the others to grab the Dynamic Duo, a plan which proves flawed as Batman grabs Carder as he rushes at him and throws him at the other two partners. (I am not joking folks, Batman picks this guy up over his head and throws him at the other two). Batman arranged for the police to be at the Company before calling the partners, and after they are called into the room, the partners are quick to surrender and confess. It turns out that the trio had been smuggling gems into the country for years and Clayber discovered what was going on. He blackmailed the partners for a share of their profits, and when he got greedy, they decided to kill him. Batman then explains that he realized the trio was rotating the costume after noticing that the pants fit differently each time the masked man appeared, while each appearance retained the ripped cape.

Thoughts: When you read a Batman story and see a giant diamond about to crush the Dynamic Duo, you know it was written by Bill Finger. And like most of Bill Finger's other Batman stories, this is a good one. During a period when aliens and magical powers were taking over the Batman titles, Finger gives us a good old fashioned mystery story. In stories like this one, it's typical for one of the people involved to turn out to be the true culprit. Finger takes this tried and true formula and twists it, revealing all three of the business partners to be behind the crime. The birthstone gimmick he employs for the staged attacks is also effective, providing the opportunity for some unique situations. If anything, the attack on Wilcox shows how high of an opinion Gotham's citizens have of Batman, because Wilcox's partner is confident that Batman can stop a Bengal tiger before it can attack Wilcox. Batman's detective skills get the spotlight here, as it is his attention to detail that leads to the break in the case. And like I said, Batman picks Carder up over his head and casually throws him into his two partners. I like to think Bill Finger wrote that scene, realized how awesome it was, and threw in a great mystery as an afterthought to get to it.

Even into the sixties, Dick Sprang's art is as great as ever. He showed in past stories that he was skilled at drawing animals and he continues that trend with the tiger in this story. His use of close-ups add dynamism to important dialogue moments. He also employs a neat technique to name the partners and show their ages, by placing their heads within a trio of lenses. When Carder is yelling for his partners to help him rush Batman, you can tell Batman is preparing to counter him. There's even a panel reminiscent of the classic nightime panel from "The 10,000 Secrets of Batman." The only negative thing that could be said about it is that you can't really tell the costume is fitting differently, but really, that isn't too important considering how you can believe the deduction of the world's greatest detective.

This story has been reprinted in the Batman In The Sixties TPB.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

At least he didn't throw the tiger at anybody. That would be as deadly as if the Green arrow could shot snakes from his bow.