The Weirdness of Golden Age Batman

Batman-1To somebody used to the grim and brooding modern Batman, Golden Age stories involving the Caped Crusader are fairly weird. From Batman’s occasional habit of gunning criminals down to the appearance of aliens and monsters every few issues, it’s safe to say that the Dark Knight took a few years to find his footing. Case in point: Batman #1 from 1940, which introduced the character of Catwoman, known then merely as the Cat.

The mutual attraction between Batman and Catwoman is well-known and is one of the main things that kept Selina Kyle from being an antagonist rather than an outright villain. Batman #1, though, takes this and several other facets of the character to the extreme, leaving me wondering why people consider Batman such a great crime-fighter in the first place.

First of all, he decides to put a 12-year-old in charge of a case that he knows will attract plenty of dangerous criminals. When a wealthy woman announces that she’ll have an incredibly valuable diamond on board a yacht during a party, these are Bruce Wayne’s exact words: “Every crook in town will be thinking about stealing that necklace if he can!”

Then, exactly two panels later, he decides that Robin’s the best lad for the case:

Batman and Dick

“Dick, do you like movies about gladiators?”

Granted, Batman makes vague reference to “another job” he’s got to do first, but it can’t be that important since every criminal in town will be on the yacht. Hm…maybe this is the time frame when he went gunning crooks down with the Batplane in one of this issue’s other stories? After all, Robin wasn’t there for that bit of mayhem.

Batman and Guns

I mean, if he really hated killing people, why did he build a machinegun turret on the Batwing?

Anyway, Robin is given one job: stop the necklace from getting stolen. So guess what happens?

Robin Fails

Come on! You had one job, Robin!

To make matters worse for Robin, another group of thugs boards the yacht to steal the necklace and gets trigger-happy when they find somebody has beaten them to it. Great call on not going to the yacht yourself, Bruce.

Batman does show up (you know, after his ward has been shot at) and rounds up the crooks. But then, in the middle of the case, he decides to have some fun. And in Batman’s world, “fun” is a slang term that means “stage an impromptu gladiatorial battle between four angry criminals and a 12-year-old boy.”

Batman's Challenge

“Go ahead! Beat up my ward! It will amuse me!”

Robin wins because he’s been trained by Batman, but it still seems like an unnecessary risk to take – especially with a jewel thief still on the loose. And then there’s this weird bit after the fight:

Batman's PSA

But…most kids don’t have training from the Batman, so they’d just get mangled in a fight with a grown man.

Is Batman encouraging the youth of America to pick fights with random criminals?

After this lovely diversion, Batman and Robin return to the yacht to search for the thief. Batman comes up with the brilliant plan of staring at women’s legs while Robin pulls the fire alarm.

Batman's detective work

That millionaire playboy thing isn’t such an act after all.

So…wow. That was pretty lucky. What if the criminal hadn’t been disguised as an old lady? Or if she had escaped the boat while Batman was forcing criminals to try to beat up a child?

As Batman wipes away costume makeup to reveal the Cat’s true identity, we get this remarkably meme-able panel:

Papa Spank

The one panel of this comic that almost everybody has seen.

Rather than let the police take the Cat in, Batman decides to escort her personally to shore. He does this because of his bat-erection.

Batman lets Catwoman go

If Joe Chill had nice eyes, young Bruce Wayne might have turned out quite differently.

The “Julie” he mentions here is his fiancée. They didn’t remain engaged for very long. I wonder why?

From this issue, I learned three important facts about Batman:

  • He takes in young wards so he can watch them fight adults for his amusement.
  • His detective methods get results due to luck more than actual skill.
  • He hates crime with a passion…unless the criminal is a hot lady, in which case he’ll intentionally let her run free. Apparently, he’s got some sort of catch-and-release fetish.
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