SPOTLIGHT ON

DETECTIVE COMICS #36

FEBRUARY 1940

originally untitled
(12 pages)

Story - Bill Finger
Art - Bob Kane (signed), Jerry Robinson (backgrounds)
Inks - Bob Kane (signed)
Lettering - Jerry Robinson
Editor - Vincent Sullivan
Cover - Bob Kane (signed)

 

PLOT SUMMARY

"ALREADY AN ALMOST LEGENDARY FIGURE,
THE COWLED SHADOW OF
THE BATMAN PROWLS THROUGH THE NIGHT,
PREYING UPON THE CRIMINAL PARASITE,
LIKE THE WINGED CREATURE WHOSE NAME HE HAD ADOPTED"

 
Whilst out on a routine patrol, the Batman witnesses a man being shot from a moving car. Discovering that the victim is in fact an FBI agent he also hears his last words - "strange... fog" - before having to hurriedly leave the scene as the police arrive and assume that the Batman is responsible for the killing.

Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce concludes that the G-Man was not talking of a strange fog but rather meant a fog connected to a person named Strange - Professor Hugo Strange, "the most dangerous man in the world! Scientist, philosopher, and a criminal genius..."

Elsewhere, it is indeed Professor Hugo Strange who is mysteriously blanketing the city in a thick fog to cover the robberies of his men and preventing the police form from pursuing them. But Bruce Wayne quickly adds up the pieces of information he has got - a list of banks (some already robbed) from the dead agent, and the reported kidnapping of a prominent electrical engineer - and heads into action as the Batman. Although initially walking straight into a trap set by Strange, the Darknight Detective quickly turns the tables and brings down both Hugo Strange and his hoodlums. Searching the mad scientist's hideout, the Batman discovers both a giant machine powering the artificial fog and the kidnapped scientist who was forced to build it for Strange.

 

 
The Batman is praised by the media, and Hugo Strange is imprisoned at the State Penitentiary - vowing escape and revenge.
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

In his tenth appearance in Detective Comics, the Batman encounters the first villain who would - albeit not immediately - become a recurring fixture in the Darknight Detective's rogues gallery: Professor Hugo Strange (who would return twice during the Golden Age, then be forgotten, but eventually be brought back with a bang for the Bronze Age and from then on appear repeatedly).

 
  Detective Comics #36 also introduces Jerry Robinson to the Batman who - inking Bob Kane's pencils and drawing the backgrounds - instantly provided added value to the artwork which immediately comes across as far more dynamic than in previous issues.

On an overall plot and storytelling level, Detective Comics #36 compares favourably with some of its preceding 1939 issues, as Bill Finger actually does a decent job of telling a story which develops in a fairly linear fashion.

Events move along without any excessive jumps or even black holes of logic, and most of the time what happens is motivated by coherent objectives of the acting individuals - such as Professor Hugo Strange devising and enacting a device which will aid him in his bank robberies and at the same time help him set up the largest crime syndicate in town.

 
Nevertheless, Golden Age comics from the 1940s are a matter of taste, and even Detective Comics #36 highlights some of the problems inherent in most comic books from that era which can make them such a hard read today.

Although Finger avoids the major and often ludicrous showstoppers seen in previous issues of Detective Comics (where logic and coherence are sometimes ignored outright), his story still has more than its fair share of "you must be kidding" moments. First off, when Batman witnesses a man being shot, he finds out that the victim is in fact a G-Man when he flips through the dead man's black notebook and finds a note on the bottom of a page which reads "if this book is found please notify the FBI". Next, Bruce Wayne's conclusion that the agent's dying words "strange... fog" must link up to Professor Hugo Strange, of whom "little is known", is conjured up completely out of thin air. And as a man of genius and cunning, Strange commands teams of robbers who, quite unlike the city police force, can drive around in thick fog as though the sun were shining ... In other words: even this above average story contains its fair share of bumps and loopholes which, unless you are eight to ten years old, can at times be hard to swallow - similar to some of the terminology used, which amongst other things labels criminals across the board as "parasites". Clearly, these were different days in many respects.

 
However, the introduction of Professor Hugo Strange is handled well, and although the characterization follows the "mad scientist with an Austro-German background" stereotype virtually by the book - with his German first name, bald head and goatee he almost looks like a twin brother of Dr Karl Helfern a.k.a. Doctor Death from Detective Comics #29 (July 1939), the only major difference being that Strange wears thick glasses whereas Helfern used a monocle.  
 
However, Professor Hugo Strange worked better than Doctor Death because Finger had given him an overall original plan he wanted to achieve (to become the city's number one mobster) which, when foiled by the Darknight Detective, changes into now just wanting to seek revenge upon the Batman - and he thus became an important early part of the Batman legacy.

One important point which sets Detective Comics #36 apart from its preceding issues is the artwork, which thanks to Jerry Robinson's inks and backgrounds has immediately gained dimension and a somewhat more dynamic character. The issue, however, still remains accidental reading matter even for Batman afficionados - it is distinctly more entertaining than average 1940s Batman stories but truly interesting only for its introduction of Professor Hugo Strange.

 

FACTS & FIGURES

Apart from the first appearance of Professor Hugo Strange, Batman’s finned gloves are also seen for the first time. Not the first time, however, DC got the cover wrong as the events depicted are clearly tied in to the Batman story featured in Detective Comics #35 in which the Darknight Detective battles a certain Sin Fang who has stolen a ruby idol.

The location of events still remains, at this point, unnamed - Batman's hometown would not be identified as Gotham City until Batman #4 (Winter 1940).

The Batman story of course was the lead attraction of Detective Comics #36, but as was standard procedure for a 1940s comic book, Detective Comics featured several additional characters in its total of 68 pages -in this case Bart Regan, Spy (6 pages), Buck Marshall, Range Detective (6 pgs), Steve Malone, District Attorney (6 pgs), Speed Saunders, Ace Investigator (6 pgs), Cosmo, Phantom of Disguise (6 pgs), Bruce Nelson (6 pgs), and Slam Bradley (10 pgs).

This story has been reprinted in Batman Archives vol 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles #1 (2005).

 

 

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The illustrations presented here are copyright material. Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.


text is copyright 2014 by atw

first published on the web 21 December 2014