Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Ace, The Bat-Hound!"

Issue: Batman #92

Cover Date: June 1955

Writer: Bill Finger

Penciller: Sheldon Moldoff

Inker: Stan Kaye

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: One night while on patrol, Batman and Robin come across a dog struggling to stay afloat in a river. When they go in to retrieve him, they find the poor animal is stunned and decide to take him home and attempt to find his owner. Upon returning to the Bat-Cave, the dog begins to recover and Bruce Wayne makes preparations to advertise in the newspaper that the dog has been found. When the Dynamic Duo leave for police headquarters the next day, they find that the dog is following after them. Without time to turn back, Batman allows the dog to join them in the Batmobile, but now the problem arises of someone connecting this dog with the one found by Bruce Wayne due to its distinctive head markings. While Batman is inside police headquarters, Robin finds a solution by giving the dog a makeshift mask and a bat-symbol on his collar.

Batman returns to the Batmobile with news that a convict named Bowers escaped from prison and was seen entering the Stevens Warehouse. The Stevens Warehouse is a storage area for circus props, and Bowers takes advantage of this when he pushes a giant figure over on top of the Dynamic Duo has they enter. While Batman and Robin dodge the prop, the dog grabs ahold of Bowers sleeve and keeps him in place, giving Batman and Robin time to catch him. It is during his struggle with the dog that Bowers dubs him a Bat-Hound, a name further supported by the security guard on the scene. The rest of Bat-Hound's name falls into place when a neighbor of the dog's owner calls Bruce Wayne and tells him that the dog, Ace, belongs to John Wilker. But when Bruce and Dick arrive at Wilker's cottage, they find it a mess with signs of a struggle having taken place. It becomes even more clear that Wilker was kidnapped when a visit by Bruce to the printing firm where Wilker works yields that hasn't been to work in two days. The Dynamic Duo planned to use Ace to find Wilker, but their search is delayed by the appearance of the Bat-Signal. Once in Commissioner Gordon's office, the pair receives information on two cases: a theft at a paper company and a child who wandered off and was now missing.

Robin takes Ace with him to talk to the boy's mother, where Ace easily finds the boy hiding in a drainpipe after picking up his scent. Meanwhile, Batman's investigation of the paper theft has revealed that the paper that was stolen was of the kind used to make bonds. Bat-Hound's growling when he catches the scent of the burglars confirms for Batman that Wilker's kidnappers are behind the paper theft and abducted him so that he could counterfeit bonds for them. The trio drive to the next logical place for theft, the inking company, but are stopped in their tracks when one of the burglars pulls a gun on Wilker. Batman and Robin are captured by the burglars, with Bat-Hound left stunned on the floor of the inking company. While the burglars are beginning their counterfitting, the Dynamic Duo make a makeshift Bat-Signal with a knocked over lamp and Batman's bat-symbol from his chest. Ace is able to find the burglar's hideout, and, after biting through the Dynamic Duo's bonds, the trio apprehends the burglars. Wilker knew that the Bat-Hound was his dog as soon as he saw him in the inking company, a fact that becomes known to a reporter at the scene after Wilker removes Ace's mask. Batman was prepared for this and pulls out a photo of Bruce Wayne handing over Ace to Batman (really Alfred), explaining that he borrowed Ace to find Wilker. The story ends Batman and Robin waving goodbye to Walker and Ace, with Robin offering Ace the Bat-Hound position if he ever wants to be one again.

Thoughts: One of my favorite aspects of the fifties era is the extended Batman Family, a Family that began here with Ace. Comparisons to Krypto aside, I actually think the addition of a Bat-Hound to the Batman Family made a whole lot of sense. Back in the fifties, he was of course brought in to boost sales with the popularity of canine heroes at the time, but his inclusion also makes sense from a story point of view. Ace's tracking abilites and his strong canine jaws are both great assets to the caped crimefighters, as illustrated in the issue. The tracking especially, considering the detective aspect to Batman's character. One nice touch Finger has in the story with Ace is his owner recognizing him despite having been clad in his Bat-Hound attire, not being deceived as easily as everyone else is. As for the story itself, the pacing is excellent, with each scene progressing naturally into the next. From the finding of Ace to his joining the Dynamic Duo to the other crimes to the final confrontation with the burglars, it all flows nicely. Batman had to protect his identity a lot during the fifties, and his cover in this instance is one of the better ones. Like most of Bill Finger's stories, this one features a giant prop in the form of the clown statue. This use of a giant prop is a memorable one, when combined with Bowers' thought balloon of, "Must lay low till they're under some big, heavy prop!"

The cover to this issue is one of my favorite Win Mortimer covers. He was able to fit Batman and Robin, the Bat-Cave, the Batmobile, the Bat-Signal, and Ace on the cover without it feeling cluttered. Brilliantly composed and overall a brilliant piece. As for the interiors, Sheldon Moldoff provides some great artwork, much in the vein of his work from "Batman, The Magician." When you introduce a dog companion for your superhero, you need an artist who can draw animals, and Moldoff is an artist who can do just that. His panel of Ace growling when he catches the scent of the burglars in the paper company is a particular highlight. While the clown faces in the background of the warehouse are simple, the one in the foreground has a great amount of detail to it that catches the eye. I do have to note that there is an art mistake in this issue. In order to make the makeshift Bat-Signal, Robin had to tear Batman's bat symbol off his costume. In the panel where Ace appears at the hideout, however, Batman has his bat symbol back on his chest and retains it for the rest of the scene. Apart from this minor glitch, great art in a great story.

This story has been reprinted in the Batman From The 30s To The 70s HC, Batman Family #5, and the Batman In The Fifties TPB.


Jeff said...

Such a great cover...I wish Win Mortimer did more interior stuff!

Chris said...

Me too. Based on his covers alone, every Batman story he illustrated would be a joy to read.