You know, usually when I talk about how the cover to an issue of Detective Comics has nothing to do with what’s actually inside, it’s a complaint. Because usually the covers portray something fun and insane and doesn’t actually end up happening in the story. But this issue? Yeah, I’m kind of okay with the fact that I didn’t have a story with Batman drop-kicking some offensive Asian stereotypes. I’m kind of shocked that I haven’t pulled an issue from World War II yet, with any objectionable racism that comes with that territory. But I guess we shouldn’t waste time talking about what this isn’t isn’t, and get to what it is, because we actually have a fun little crime story from the brief amount of time before Robin showed up. That’s right folks, we got some pre-Robin violent Batman action here today!
The issue starts off with Batman lurking atop the buildings of Gotham City while a title card explains Batman’s mission statement unlike any way I’ve ever read before. “Batman prowls through the night preying upon the criminal parasite like the winged creature whose name he has adopted.” Pretty solid. But as he’s lurking around he sees a man get shot and the assailants speeding away in a car. He misses the killers, and the only words Batman gets from the victim are “fog” and “strange.” So Batman rifles through the guy’s pockets and comes across a mysterious black notebook. Batman pockets the notebook, and when the police show up he books it out of there, and heads back to the mansion to think. And while puzzling over things in his classy smoking jacket he makes a realization.
That’s right, in case you happened to skip the title of the issue we just learned that we get to read a story about Hugo Strange. This was his debut issue, and I really like the way he’s portrayed here, less as a supervillain and more as Professor Moriarty. Anyway, Bruce is worried wen he realizes Strange is involved, so he begins researching that notebook and finds that it’s full of names of buildings in Gotham, and evidence that the man who was killed was an FBI Agent.
Meanwhile, Hugo Strange is hanging out in his own mansion, plotting, when the men who killed the FBI Agent come in. He tells Strange all about their night, and how Batman stopped them, which starts to make Strange nervous. But he’s not going to give up on his evil plan though, and decides to move ahead with things. So that night as the people of Gotham are milling about in between crimes, an unnatural fog starts to billow down. And under the cover of that fog Strange’s men start robbing banks and businesses, all of which were in that notebook that Batman found earlier. But he hasn’t put that together, and is unable to stop the men from robbing the city blind. However, after listening to a radio report about a missing electrical engineer, Batman realizes that they’ve been robbing places in that book, and heads out to trap them at the next location. So while the thugs are busy breaking into some warehouse, he busts in and starts beating the hell out of the thugs, while making jokes about bowling.
So Batman beats up the thugs, ruins their robbery, and leaves them for the police to come arrest. Which obviously is starting to piss off Hugo Strange. He’s lurking around in his headquarters, cursing at Batman and smashing some glasses. But as he’s pouting he realizes that if Batman was waiting for them at that warehouse, he must have found the FBI Agent’s notebook, and knows where they’re going. Which means that he knows where Batman knows they’re going that night, which means he can set a trap for the Dark Knight.
The next night Batman is heading into the next location on that list, confident that he was going to be able to surprise Strange’s men again and get them arrested, when he walks right into a trap. He comes into another warehouse and finds it full of Strange’s goons. But, being Batman, he just starts to beat up the dudes, and does a pretty good job, even though it’s nine against one. But apparently even Batman can’t handle those odds, because while he’s able to jump around the room and drop down on dudes from beams in the ceiling, he’s eventually caught off guard and one of the goons is able to knock him unconscious with a blackjack.
And once he’s unconscious, things get weird. Because the goons bring Batman to Hugo Strange, and he decides to punish Batman for spoiling all of his plans. Which obviously means he’s going to tie Batman up, hang him from a beam and start whipping him. Unfortunately for Strange though, this just pisses Batman off more, and he uses all his strength to break his bonds, and grab a vial of sleeping gas from his utility belt. So Batman’s free, and has knocked out the goons, leaving just Professor Strange. The two then have a crazy, drag-out fight while beating the hell out of each other. But, obviously, Batman prevails and is able to knock Strange out, leaving only the mystery of the fog. Batman starts wandering around Strange’s base, and ends up finding some crazy device built by that missing electrical engineer from earlier, that Strange was using to cover Gotham in the crazy fog under which he committed his crimes. So Batman turns the machine off, the fog is lifted, and Strange is sent to prison.
Yeah, I really like this issue. In general I’m a fan of Hugo Strange, and I really loved this version of the character. I like the regular one, the psychologist who learns Batman’s identity and works out to make himself a physical and mental match for Batman, but I really enjoyed this portrayal. He was basically just Professor Moriarty, even using the Professor title instead of Doctor, which is handy because it doesn’t create confusion with the other Doctor Strange. And hey, I love Professor Moriarty, so seeing Batman go up against some gentleman of crime and solve a mystery using actual detection was a blast. I was kind of worried about either possible racism from the cover, or a certain amount of pulpy violence since it took place before Robin came on the scene, but this was a legitimately fun and exciting little story that I really enjoyed. It was clearly early in the run, and things weren’t quite figured out yet, but you can really see from even an issue this early that the character had a lot of potential, that was more often than not met.
“Batman Meets Professor Hugo Strange” was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson, 1940.
Categories: Bat Signal