Bat Signal

Issue 219 – “Gotham City’s Strangest Race”

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Well after my ridiculously long and angry screed against Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice yesterday, how about we wash the bitter taste in our mouths out with some silly, Golden Age Batman comics? And boy do we have a weird one here. It’s become pretty standard here on Bat Signal to take the covers of these older Golden Age comics with a grain of salt, since more often than not they promise something wonderful that the inside of the book can’t hope to match. And this one actually does deliver on it’s promise of having Batman and Robin participating in the Wacky Racers. So let’s jump into a goofy comic where we get  to learn about turn of the century cars, and Batman’s weird contempt of them.

The story starts off with Batman and Robin just driving around Gotham at night, no one really seeming that concerned about the Batmobile just out for a drive. It doesn’t seem like Batman and Robin are really doing anything, just out for a late-night drive I guess, but their curiosity is piqued when they notice some low-level hood that they’ve run in a couple of time driving around town in a turn of the century car, which this comic confusedly keeps referring to as “ancient.” They think it’s a little weird that some random gangster is driving around in a Model T, so they decide to follow him, assuming he’s up to no good. It turns out there’s some sort of big “Ancient Car Convention” going on in a suburb of Gotham that weekend, and a couple Gotham gangsters have gotten their hands on old-timey cars to participate in the convention. Batman assumes that they’re up to something, and haven’t just gotten a new interest in classic cars, so he and Robin decide they need to go under cover and infiltrate the festival. So Bruce Wayne ponies up the cash to buy a car from 1909 to drive around, while also buying one from 1905 that they modify to become an old-timey Batmobile, just in case they need it. So with the two cars, they head out to the suburbs, since apparently it’s a slow weekend for crime.

But just as soon as they get to the suburbs, and hide the Batmobile in a “potato bin,” they hear someone stealing Bruce Wayne’s car. The two race out only to see some of those Gotham gangster escaping with the car. So Batman and Robin suit up, hop in their Batmobile, and race off after the thieves. Unfortunately since there’s a classic car convention going on, they run into a car that looks exactly like Bruce’s, and end up basically carjacking some poor guy who had no idea what was going on. Once they figure out what’s going on, they apologize to the guy, and I guess deputize him and force him to drive around with them all night trying to find Bruce’s car. They split up, and while Batman is driving around aimlessly, Robin and the guy they met, whose name is Tallant, run into the gangster stripping Bruce’s car for parts. Robin attacks them, but is foiled by the roof of the car, and the guys get away.

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Batman catches up with them, but the thieves are long gone. So they put Wayne’s car back together and Tallant heads off to get some sleep, since there’s a bunch of big contests and races the next day. Batman and Robin head back to the barn they rented too, and the next day show up at the convention as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. They wander around the pavilion, and get ready for the contests. After a parade the cars all line up at a big hill to race up it, seeing if any of the cars can even climb a hill. And while Bruce’s car does pretty terrible in the race, they see that Tallant’s near-identical one is doing great, and wins the race. But as he crosses the finish line Bruce notices that one of the cars being driven by the gangsters is barreling down at Tallant, heading for a collision. Bruce swerves in front of the out-of-control car, destroying his own, but saving Tallant, since it seems pretty clear that the gangsters are trying to do something to him.

So that night the two put on their costumes, and start investigating again. Batman figures that once night falls again the thugs are going to try and steal Tallant’s car again, so it’s up to them to stop them. But that night there’s a big fireworks display scheduled, and Batman almost immediately recognizes that someone has tampered with the display in a way that would send the fireworks straight for the “oil-storage yard” next to the pavilion, which would cause a giant fire, and a pretty good diversion. But, shockingly, Batman and Robin are able to save the day and fire the fireworks into the river, avoiding a fire. And with the diversion ruined, they head into the big garage where Tallant’s car is being held, only to find Tallant knocked unconscious, and the thugs running away. Batman fights on of them atop a giant display of a motor, but the guy refuses to talk, and just gets arrested. So Batman has no leads, but when he starts investigating Tallant’s car, he finds that the thugs had wrenches that could only have been used to remove Tallant’s gas tank, which explains everything perfectly for Batman, and not at all for us. And the only way to catch the criminals in whatever plot they have is pretty ridiculous. Batman and Robin offer to be the marshals of the big race the next day, even though Batman is a little quiet.

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The 40 mile race then begins, with Batman and Robin serving as the arbiters of the rules, while the cars start puttering off. But when the race begins we see that the gangsters aren’t that patient, and run Tallant and his car off the road seemingly right after the starting line. Robin ensures Tallant that everything will be alright, and that a tow-truck will be along shortly to help him. And sure enough, a tow-truck shows up, and starts dragging Tallant’s car out into the middle of the woods, instead of the town. Turns out the gangsters stole the tow-truck too, and are using it to get Tallant’s car out of prying eyes so they can do their thing. But luck isn’t on their side, because that wasn’t actually Tallant driving, it was Batman! I guess they made a Batman dummy to put in the Batmobile with Robin so Batman would get this deception to work. And once he’s revealed his identity, Batman decides to finally let us in on what the hell’s going on. Apparently forty years ago some thug stole a whole bunch of platinum, and was caught trying to escape town. When the cops searched the car, they couldn’t find the platinum, and it was never found. Turns out he melted it down and turned the platinum into the gas tank of his car. The guy never told anyone, except one of his cell-mates in jail, who happens to be on of the thugs that was in this story. Apparently after the platinum thief got arrested, the car was sold at auction, to Tallant. So this whole thing was to steal the gas tank off Tallant’s car, because it was made of precious metal. Jeez Batman, you went through a lot of effort to foil such a stupid robbery.

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What a goofy issue. It reminded me a lot of that issue “the Box.” It was a fun little mystery, and Batman and Robin do well solving it, but the solution ends up being super lame. It was all about a platinum gas tank! Batman spent days of his life, spent who knows how much money to buy not one, but two antique cars to make it work, and it was all over a platinum gas-tank. Was that really worth it Batman? I guess that’s not for us to know. But while the solution ended up being pretty stupid, the rest of the issue was pretty fun. We got to see Batman and Robin actually do some investigation, even though it was a type of mystery I don’t really like. I’m not a fan of mysteries that we couldn’t possibly solve on our own. Unless the platinum gas-tank is canon in Detective Comics, and something that’s come up before, it just comes completely out of nowhere, so we have to wait for Batman to give us the necessary backstory to even understand what the hell’s going on. But oh well, you run into stuff like that sometimes in these old comics, and it was nice to see Batman acting like a detective and not branding criminals.

“Gotham City’s Strangest Race” was written by Bill Finger (I think? It’s another one of those that don’t have any credits) and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, 1955.

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