SPOTLIGHT ON

DETECTIVE COMICS #46

DECEMBER 1940

(originally untitled, later "Professor Strange's Fear Dust")
(12 pages)

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

 

PLOT SUMMARY

"ONCE AGAIN CRIME REARS ITS UGLY HEAD TO PREY UPON SOCIETY...
AND ONCE AGAIN EMERGES THAT SUPER-FOE OF CRIME -
THE BATMAN !
GARBED IN THE HUES OF NIGHT ITSELF
HE HOVERS ABOVE THE HORDES OF EVIL LIKE IMPENDING DOOM...
AND ALWAYS AT HIS SIDE, LIKE A STRONG RIGHT ARM,
IS GRINNING, RECKLESS
ROBIN THE BOY-WONDER"

 
As Batman breaks up a robbery at a silver warehouse the lengthy fight leaves all the gangsters down and dazed - with one exception: a frightened teenager, who implores the Batman not to send him to jail and offers up information in return, to which Batman agrees as he senses a bigger picture looming.

The teen tells Batman that the robbery was arranged by a racketeer named Carstairs, seemingly working together with a mysterious professor who has handed out pills to all of the crooks together with instructions to take one before doing the assigned jobs. The pills, they were told, will make them immune to a compound the Professor has developed. To be on the safe side, the Batman grabs several of the pills from the teen and then leaves the scene so that the crooks -once they regain consciousness - can proceed to meet with Carstairs and the Professor. Once the gang receive their instructions for their next moves, the teenager will meet with the Batman and report.

 
The mastermind behind the scheme now taking shape is none other than Professor Hugo Strange (last seen in Batman #1), and he has developed a diabolical new chemical agent in the form of a fear spray. Shot from a special gun, the spray causes those who inhale it to become paralyzed with fear - and the first crime using this extraordinary weapon is planned virtually immediately, giving the teenager no opportunity to inform the Batman.

The bank robbery goes smoothly and according to the Professor's plan as the police are too paralyzed with fear to make any move to stop the bank robbery. Very soon, the entire city is in a grip of fear as a whole series of robberies takes place.

 

 
Trying to contact the teenager, the Batman is knocked out by Strange's men as the Professor has figured out Batman's plans with ease. Now finally learning who is adversary is, the Batman also overhears Strange's masterplan: to spray the entire city with the fear toxin, and then the whole of the country until the nation has no other choice - remain strangled by fear or... make Professor Hugo Strange the Dictator of the United States !
 
  As Strange leaves, the Batman sees his chance. Freeing himself, he takes out the Professor's crooks and contacts Robin, telling him to take one of the antidote pills he received from the teenager and then follow Batman's instructions.

Soon, both Batman and Robin are taking out bad guys with fear spray guns by the dozen, preventing them from setting loose Strange's sinister chemical compound in densely populated places or the city water reservoir.

Meanwhile, the Batman has caught up with Strange who is about to board his private plane in order to spray the city with the chemical from the air.

 
On a large cliff the two antagonists meet and fight, and finally the Darknight Detective gets the upper hand and sends Hugo Strange falling from off the cliff and into a river below - and the Batman feels certain that this, finally, is the end of Professor Hugo Strange...
 

REVIEW & ANALYSIS

With his third and final Golden Age appearance, the ambitions of Professor Hugo Strange have skyrocketed. Initially only planning to take over the city's rackets, he now reaches out for true power - as the Dictator of America.

Whilst this may sound cheesy to some, it actually works very well - because Strange is fully aware of the true potential of his newest weapon. Naturally this works well for bank robberies, but fear will do much more than that; and indeed it seems more appropriate for a scheme of political usurpation than for petty crimes.

 
 
Hugo Strange has gone from being a local mobster to posing a national (and, one can assume, international) threat of the highest order. This, in other words, is serious. The result is a really big story from the pen of Bill Finger, which is way better than the average 1940s Batman story.
 
 
  Told over the course of a mere 13 pages in its entirety, this would easily span six or even more issues of modern decompressed storytelling. The pacing of Detective Comics #46 is somewhat uneven, but the high level of plot interest keeps it all together and going.

The artwork is similarly uneven, although - eighteen months into publication - the Batman feature by now has its regular flow of panels featuring motifs which today have a very classic feel, such as the Batman pulling up his cape (almost in Bela Lugosi Dracula fashion) to his face, almost as though he were to perform a vanishing act any moment soon.

Professor Hugo Strange is a strong and multidimensional villain but poses a threat not only because of some imaginary weapon he possesses but, above all, because he actually has a plan and a strategy how to use it. Nevertheless, this would be the last Batman and the readers of Detective Comics would see of the Professor for 37 years.

 

FACTS & FIGURES

The DC villain commonly associated with fear as a weapon is, of course, the Scarecrow. However, Professor Hugo Strange was the first Batman foe to make use of artificially induced sensations of fear - almost a year ahead of the Scarecrow's first appearance in World's Finest Comics #3 (Fall 1941).

 
In terms of "fear spray" Hugo Strange was even further ahead of the Scarecrow, as this prop was only attributed to the Man of Straw as late as February 1967 in Batman #189 - and by none other than Golden Age veteran writer Gardner Fox, who back in 1939 had also been responsible for introducing many of the Batman's iconic gadgets and weaponery.

And finally - DC begins to try and establish closer ties with its readership and has Batman talking directly to his readers, in the last panel of his feature.

The story has been collected and reprinted in Batman Archives vol 1 (1990) and Batman Chronicles #3 (2007).

 
 

 

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first published on the web 24 December 2014