Bat Signal

Issue 196 – “City Without Guns”

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Oh boy everybody, it’s vacation time! That’s right, Batman and Robin are going to go solve some crimes in merry old England! Which is certainly more plausible than when they went back in time to solve crimes in Ancient Egypt and join Cleopatra’s posse, but it still feels weird whenever the Dynamic Duo leave Gotham and chase stupid criminals around in different cities. Which is probably weird, since so many of these older issues I’ve gotten to in this project have had Batman and Robin just wandering around the countryside outside Gotham, which feels just as out of place. But there’s something even stranger with a story like this, where they completely leave everything they’re familiar with just to track some stupid thug down. So let’s see how Batman and Robin’s little vacation to England pays off for the, since as they title proclaims, it’s a City without Guns!

The issue starts off letting us know that some mobster named Frank Lumbardi has basically been kicked out of Gotham. The police chase him right off a dock, and he zips away on a speedboat before getting to a cargo ship ready to take him and his goons to England, since there was apparently too much heat in Gotham. And wouldn’t you know, Bruce and Dick take that opportunity to go check out London. I double checked, and it’s not really clear if they came to London to find Lumbardi, or if that was just a happy accident, but either way they get to London and decide to go meet some inspector at Scotland Yard named Deggers. So they meet with Deggers as he shows them Scotland Yard’s wall of great inspectors, which includes the fictional character Sherlock Holmes. There’s also a spot saying Batman and Robin, but the painting has been ripped out, which seems odd. And it just gets odder when Deggers refuses to talk about it .

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Well that’s odd. But just as Deggers is making ominous proclamations, an alarm goes off about a crime in progress, and he races off to investigate. And obviously Batman and Robin are going to get in on this investigation, so they follow Deggers, and happen to come across Lumbari’s goons, who seem to be making short work of the London police, since Lunbardi’s gang loves guns. And then, in true Detective Comics fashion, the goons are able to easily get away because of stupid bullshit. This time is a runaway double-decker bus, which Batman goes out of his way to stop, letting Lumbardi and his cronies flee. But Batman’s able to pop a manhole cover out, causing the bus to get stuck in it, stopping the bus, and probably giving everyone on board some serious whiplash. And once that’s done Batman and Robin go back to Scotland Yard to chat with Deggers, before heading back out into the city.

But they realize things are going to be difficult, since they don’t really have any of their stuff.  Which seems like poor planning. Obviously nowadays Batman probably has some sort of BatCloud thing that he can access all of his crime-fighting files and techniques wherever he is, but since this is the 50s he’s pretty screwed. That is until some gangly weirdo in a bowler hat and an overcoat shows up, claiming to be their biggest fan. His name is Chester Gleek, and he’s shockingly not a serial killer, and is apparently some sort of crimefighter, so he invites Batman and Robin back to his laboratory to go over notes pertaining to Lumbardi. So they follow the weirdo, and are shocked to find that he has an elaborate recreation of the Batcave underneath the streets of London, complete with files on criminals and a fake Batmobile. So the Dynamic Duo scan Lunbardi’s file, and find that he’s been hanging out at fancy equestrian parties, and decide to bust him there.

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So yeah, now Batman and Robin have some sort of knock-off Batmobile and a lead on Lumbardi and his goons, so they go try to stop him. Which takes the form of them just trying to hit Lumbardi’s horse with their car. Good work guys. But it doesn’t work, and Lumbardi is able to break their engine, since this cheap Batmobile isn’t bullet-proof. So that didn’t last long. And once their car is taken out, they give chase on foot, and end up following Lumbardi and his goons into Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, where they get in a silly fight where they just keep hitting each other with props. Unfortunately Lumbardi gets away when he gets out of the museum and somehow gets a huge processional of penny-farthing bikes between him and Batman. Because England I guess.

Batman and Robin head back to Scotland Yard to chat with Deggers about leads, and after another strange moment where Deggers refuses to tell them what happened to their ripped out portrait, they end up realizing that Lumbardi is probably going to do something at an old dock on the Thames. Which is right, because their brilliant plan for the evening is robbing some rich old sea-captain who keeps his entire life’s savings in a giant chest aboard his ship. Yeah, why not? Anyway, Batman and Robin show up, beat up the goons, and end up with another damn footrace with Lumbardi. This time they end up in Oxford University, and have a big fight inside a bell-tower. However, Lumbardi gets the upper hand when he disorientates Batman with some up close bell-ringing, and is able to run away again. But this time he’s stopped by some guys with guns. What?! Well, it turns out this is some sort of Oxford rifle club or something, and they were able to scare Lumbardi enough to keep him in one place so he could be arrested. So that’s the end of that! Everything’s all wrapped up. Oh, except that stupid portrait thing. Turns out that the portrait was on loan from that creepy Gleek dude, and he took it back because they wouldn’t give Batman and Robin the respect they deserve. So they just give them a new painting so everyone’s okay. Sure.

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What a lackluster issue. It’s not even that bad really, it’s just kind of nothing. You would think an issue about Batman and Robin visiting England, and getting involved in some crazy plot that takes them all around the city would be more fun than this. It maybe would have been better if it featured one of the more colorful villains from Batman’s rogue’s gallery instead of just some random gangster. That might have actually made things interesting. Because as it stands this is just one of those issues that I’ve been reading a lot where Batman and Robin chase some stupid dude around, always one step behind, before finally catching up. There isn’t even that much detective work going on. They just keep running into the stupid guy.

Then there were all the weird plot elements that just didn’t really go anywhere. Like the portrait thing. They just kept bringing the stupid thing up, and making us think that it was going to be something impressive, like Batman and Robin had done something horrible and lost the faith of all of these inspectors, causing them to rip the picture down in disgust. But nope, it’s just this weird fake out. Oh, and that Gleek guy? What the hell’s with that? I was legitimately assuming this guy was going to be up to something sketchy, since he was so goddamn creepy. But maybe that’s just coming from a modern perspective where we’ve been trained that weird obsessive fans who model their lives after their heroes tend to be stalkers that end up killing their heroes. Maybe there was nothing ominous about the guy. But either way, other than giving them his shitty knockoff Batmobile, he really didn’t serve any purpose, and just seemed to exist for the same reason as the dumb portrait plot. Dragging out a 13 page story that was apparently running short on plot. Good work folks.

“City Without Guns” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Dick Sprang.

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