Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"The Jungle Cat-Queen!"

Issue: Detective Comics #211

Cover Date: September 1954

Writer: Edmond Hamilton

Penciller: Dick Sprang

Inker: Charles Paris

Cover Artist: Win Mortimer

Synopsis: This story begins with a pilot preparing to leave his plane to deliver a shipment of diamonds. Suddenly, he is confronted by a black panther, begging its owner (Catwoman naturally) to call the animal off. She complies once the pilot gives her the case of diamonds, flying away in her Catplane. Soon after, a radio news report and the Bat Signal in the sky tell Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson that they are needed. Arriving at the airport, Batman identifies the islands the volcanic clay that fell from the Catplane's tires came from, and the Batplane soon takes off in pursuit of Catwoman. Batman and Robin do manage to catch up with her, but the villainess did not embark on her crime unprepared, slashing the Batplane's wings with her Catplane's retractable claws. The pair manage to land on the island Catwoman was heading towards, making their way to a mine Robin spotted from the air. The miners appear at first to be afraid that Catwoman is after their diamonds, but reveal their true colors when they set off a noose-trap the Dynamic Duo intended for Catwoman.

The miners are in fact criminals in league with Catwoman and prepare to shoot Batman and Robin, but are stopped when the cat-queen herself arrives. She prefers to hunt them rather than merely shooting them, making the pair don jungle clothing so that they won't have their usual gadgets to rely on. Batman and Robin run into the jungle, eventually using the reeds-as-breathing-tubes trick to evade Catwoman and a trio of her jungle cats. As night begins to fall, the Dynamic Duo follows the cat tracks hoping to find Catwoman's secret lair. They lead the pair to a giant temple originally occupied by cat worshippers, where they discover Catwoman's jungle cats are in fact circus animals she brought with her. Using a whip, Batman is able to drive the animals to their cages, leaving Catwoman to be apprehended. John Jarrow, the head of the miners is able to provide a distraction, releasing a gorilla who manages to pick up Robin.

Batman fends the gorilla off with fire back into its cage, but left himself open for Jarrow to point his gun at the Caped Crusader. To get rid of Batman once and for all, Jarrow plans to have him sent tied up down a river and over a waterfall. Catwoman suggests that he given his costume back so it will disappear as well. While Batman is being thrown in the river, Robin wakes up with a lion sniffing him and manages to send the animal away with the smoke from a burning plant. Meanwhile, Batman is able to save himself from a watery death using a silken rope and emergency knife that Catwoman missed removing. After tying up Catwoman, Batman makes his way to the mine sites and confirms that the criminals were stealing diamonds and pretending they mined them themselves. The "miners" corner Batman, but Robin saves the day through a stampede caused by the smokescreen he created. While the Dynamic Duo knock out the criminals, one of Catwoman's cats frees her and she escapes in her Catplane. Batman confirms to Robin that Catwoman intentionally the tools in his belt and that such sentimentality will allow them to catch her.

Thoughts: For my first reviews back, I wanted to spotlight some of Batman's rogue's gallery as many of the stories I've written about have featured the standard criminal gangs. And Catwoman's use in the story allows for a top quality fifties Batman tale of adventure, mystery, and a gorilla too. From the tropical island setting to the diamond smuggling operation to the animal threats, it's high comic book adventure at its finest. It is interesting how Hamilton attempts to ground the story in a degree of realism by explaining the animals are circus animals, only to introduce a giant ape that can hold Robin in one hand soon after. But I'm not complaining; as a wise man once said, everything's better with monkeys (or apes as the case may be. At the beginning of the story, Batman taps into his inner Sherlock Holmes to identify the islands the clay is from without having to consult any books or scientific equipment. The mystery of the diamond mines is a bit more clever, as the reader dismiss Catwoman's theft of the diamonds when she's part of a mining operation as convenience for the plot before the story is over. The most interesting aspect of the story is Batman's relationship with Catwoman. From their first meeting, the game of cat and mouse between the two of them has been a flirtatious one. This is apparent in Catwoman wanting to chase Batman rather than easily dispatch him. Her wanting to swap the Dynamic Duo's costumes with the jungle outfits may seem odd at first when removing their utility belts would be adequate, but apart from the obvious Tarzan nod, it fits with the underlying romantic tension between Batman and Catwoman. And it is the Batman/Catwoman relationship that elevates this story from an entertaining fifties Batman adventure story to a great one.

In addition to choosing the stories for this week for their featuring supervillains, I also chose them because they featured artwork by Dick Sprang. It's apparent that the reader is in for a visual treat with the title splash page, depicting Catwoman charging on a giant Tiger towards the Dynamic Duo hanging from their ropes. This splash page sets the tone for the adventure to follow, with the larger than life tiger even anticipating the giant gorilla to come. In a story with a heavy presence of animals, you need an artist that can draw them well and Sprang certainly fits that bill. Not only does each animal look like they are supposed to, they are drawn in a detailed manner where hair and spots are concerned. One of the best drawings is of the gorilla taking a swipe at Robin, drawn with dynamism and energy. The hair trails off the body, giving the gorilla a more realistic look, while the swiping arm crosses into the next panel, allowing the strength of the arm coming towards Robin to be conveyed. Sprang's attention to detail extends not only to the animals, but to the island jungle. When the Batplane arrives on the island, Sprang could have gone with a shot closer to the craft, showing it and some trees. Instead, Sprang utilizes a long shot over the island, showing not just trees, but the "mining" camp, mountains, and a waterfall. Such details bring the setting to life and makes it standout against the city settings of most Batman stories. While the art is great throughout, my favorite panel has to be the first one of the ancient temple. The towering temple, the cat statues around it, and the wisps of fog across the panel work together to set a mood of foreboding. While Sprang's art always receives high praise from me, I feel confidant in saying that this story was one of his best.

This story has been reprinted in Batman #198 and The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told.


CMN said...

Couldn't agree more that this is one great story; total package of art, plot, and dialogue.

Pat said...

Great to see you're back in action! The Jungle Cat-Queen is my favorite Batman story of all time.

Chris said...

I can certainly see why; it has all the elements you could want from a Batman story.