SPOTLIGHT ON

BATMAN #1

SPRING 1940


Batman #1 went on sale on April 25th 1940, intended to cash in on the popularity of the character and his sidekick in Detective Comics. Accordingly, all 68 pages are exclusively Batman material apart from 10 pages of text fillers.

Over time, Batman #1 has become a landmark in comic book history: the Batman's first own title, it also featured the first appearances of the Joker - who of course would go on to become Batman's arch nemesis and a popular culture icon in his own right - as well as Catwoman (although she is only referred to here as The Cat).

 

Batman #1 also featured the Batman's third ever super villain, who first appeared in Detective Comics #36: Professor Hugo Strange. It is no surprise that his appearance should fade next to the Joker's first two encounters with the Batman - but it would be a mistake to overlook it.

There are synopses, reviews and analyses aplenty regarding the two Joker stories as well as the Catwoman appearance in Batman #1 (e.g. at the DC wiki), so this spotlight deals exclusively with the Hugo Strange story.


 

(originally untitled)
(12 pages)

Story - Bill Finger
Pencils - Bob Kane (signed)
Inks - Bob Kane (signed), Jerry Robinson (backgrounds)
Lettering - Jerry Robinson
Editor - Whitney Ellsworth
Cover pencils - Bob Kane (signed)
Cover inks - Bob Kane (signed), Jerry Robinson (backgrounds)
Logo design - Jerry Robinson

 

 

PLOT SUMMARY

"WHILE AN INNOCENT METROPOLIS SLEEPS
LITTLE DOES IT REALIZE
THAT HUGE, TERRIFYING MAN-MONSTERS
SHALL SOON STALK THE STREET..."

 
Professor Hugo Strange launches a brazen escape from prison, where he had been sent to by Batman only very recently (in Detective Comics #36).
 
The news is all over the streets, but the professor and his hoodlums from the jailbreak avoid being recaptured by the police and, the next night, even abduct patients from the city's mental institution - little do they realise that Strange intends to use them as guinea pigs for his abhorrent experiments and ultimately aims to turn them all into mutations - 15 ft tall mindless brutes which he calls "monster men".  

 
Of course none of the inhabitants of the city are aware of this, but when the news of the abduction from the asylum is reported on the radio, a certain Bruce Wayne listens most attentively.
 
  Wayne is convinced that the news can only mean one thing: Professor Strange is up to something fantastic and terrible... very terrible.

And Bruce Wayne's intuition is indeed spot on. In a secret laboratory hidden somewhere across town, Strange is administering a powerful artificial growth hormone that acts on the pituitary gland of his unfortunate victims - with hideous results.

 
Wearing bulletproof clothing, one of the professor's 15 ft tall mindless brutes is sent out to spread terror and chaos in the city whilst his men are free to rob banks at discretion in the general state of panic.
 
Pursuing the members of Strange's gang who set loose the "Monster Man" in the city and then hauled him back into a truck when all the robberies had been pulled off, the Batman arrives at Professor Hugo Strange's hideout and secret laboratory.

However, the Darknight Detective walks straight into the powerful arms of two more Monster Men who take him to Strange - who is delighted, as he has been seeking revenge all the time.

The professor plans to turn the Batman into one of his Monster Men and injects him with the growth hormone which will start acting on the pituitary gland within the hour.

However, a struggle ensues with the Darknight Detective, and Strange falls through a window and into the waters below. It seems like the end for the evil professor, but the Batman is somewhat doubtful - besides, he needs to prevent the serum from working and having its terrible effect on his body...

 

 

 
With only a minute to spare, the Batman succeeds in distilling and injecting an antidote, leaving him with one final task: taking down the last of Strange's Monster Men, who has climbed a skyscraper in the city. Encircling him in a scene which feels as though it came straight from King Kong, the Batman uses tear gas bombs to make the giant brute lose its grip and fall to its certain death.
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

The return of Professor Hugo Strange heralds the growing scope of his ambitions and highlights the fact that his evil genius will stop at nothing - in this case turning innocents into mutated monsters. Strange's disrespect for the physical and psychological integrity of innocents is, however, mirrored by a de facto similar approach by the Batman.

 
  Although musing to himself that he hates to take human life, the Batman mows down both Strange's henchmen as well as his "monster men" with machine gun fire from his Batplane. Naturally, this is in utter violation of the fundamental ethics and fighting principles for which the Batman is commonly known: no weapons, no killing, no force other than against those who themselves use direct force against their victims and the Batman.

This story, however, comes from a different age and time.

 
Intended originally for publication in Detective Comics #37 it was pushed out by the introduction of Robin. One of the last Batman solo story for decades to come, it was also written and illustrated in the vein of the very early 1939 Batman stories where the lives of crooks were all but safe in the presence of this dark vigilante.

So did this story stick out like a sore thumb from the remaining content in Batman #1? Hardly. This was still a very sombre phase, harking back at the pulp fiction roots of DC Comics' publishers, even with the colourful Boy Wonder around - and the homicidal Joker more than made up for the body count to which the Batman was no longer supposed to contribute by editorial decision (which would also ban any killings by the Joker as of 1941). It was indeed a very different time, but it was already changing as well.

 
The bloodshed aside, this Professor Strange story is entertaining and most certainly better than the average 1940s Batman story as it follows a clearly orchestrated plot path, building up to two classic cliffhangers in a row: can the Batman rescue himself in time, and is Professor Strange really dead?

Naturally, the hero manages to save himself just in time (although the resourcefulness of Batman / Bruce Wayne is possibly a tad too spectacular as he concocts an anti-agent to Strange's growth hormone in three minutes flat). And as no body is found, the Batman is rather doubtful that this will be the last of Professor Hugo Strange...

"I HAVE A FEELING THAT THE BIGGEST MONSTER OF THEM ALL,
PROFESSOR HUGO STRANGE, STILL LIVES !
PERHAPS WE SHALL MEET AGAIN...
PERHAPS !!"

 
 
And naturally, the Batman was absolutely right.
 

 

BATMAN and all related elements are the property of DC Comics, Inc. TM and DC Comics, Inc., a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc.
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.

first published on the web 24 December 2014
last revised 30 December 2014