Bat Signal

Issue 126 – “Case of the Silent Songbirds”

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Hi there everybody and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my continuing experiment to read random issues of Detective Comics. I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, not too much family drama. And speaking of turkeys, let’s read a goofy issue with the Penguin! That was a stretch! Anyway, the Penguin! We haven’t had one of his stories in a while, and luckily the issue that I happened to pull today is much less aggravating than the last one I checked out. Mainly because this one doesn’t revolve around umbrellas, causing my to write the word umbrellas roughly one thousand times. No, we have a much different Penguin story in store today, and it’s pretty great. As you could guess from the insane cover that features Batman and Robin laughing uproariously at an overweight man being electrocuted before their very eyes. Let’s get going!

The story begins with the Penguin already running away from Batman and Robin, on foot. Which proves to be a bad plan when the Dynamic Duo just roll up in the Batmobile and get ready to beat him up. However, Penguin’s umbrella has a high-powered flash device in it, which easily blinds them, letting the Penguin slip away. And when Batman and Robin’s vision returns they find the Penguin missing, and begin searching around for a place he may have hidden. And it just so happens that there’s some sort of radio broadcast going on from a bird enthusiast club that’s talking about canaries. Unfortunately the Penguin isn’t in the room, so their out of ideas, and return to the Batcave. But they were wrong. The radio was involved in Penguin’s plan, because we see him meeting with some of his goons, and preparing to hatch their latest plan. Which involves extorting singers in Gotham who have been given bird codenames, and if they don’t pay up to the Penguin he’ll steal their voices. And that radio broadcast was a signal to go after the “canary,” who is just a singer nicknamed the Canary. Not very clever Penguin.

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So the Canary’s voice has been stolen, and the Penguin continues to threaten the singers of Gotham. But the Penguin’s plan isn’t exactly subtle, and the next morning Bruce and Dick easily piece together what happened. And they hadn’t even gotten out of their pajamas at that point! And once they figure out that the Penguin is using the radio show to signal his goons, they decide to go check on the Canary, hoping to figure out what’s going on. And lucky for them, when they get to the Canary’s apartment they find that the Penguin is already there, trying to extort her yet again. Batman tries to punch the Penguin immediately, but the little bastard is able to send a flare out of the window to signal his goons, who come in to save him. The goons begin fighting Batman and Robin, which goes exactly like you think it would. But in the commotion Penguin is able to escape and continue his stupid crime spree.

However, Penguin hasn’t figured out that Batman and Robin solved how he was communicating his hits, so he just keeps on having the weird bird radio station list out targets. This time it’s the hummingbird and the blue bird. So Bruce and Dick start researching bird facts and end up deciding that the targets are a famous crooner named Jack Martini and a blues singer called Tessa King. So the race off to save the two singes, and decide to get to Jack Martini first. They get to the studio where he’s recording a new album, and unfortunately get there just a little too late. As Martini begins singing his voice suddenly cuts out. The Penguin has succeeded again. Batman manages to arrest one of Penguin’s goons, but he promises not to tell the Penguin’s secrets, so the Dynamic Duo head out to protect Tessa King and try to actually win one. So they hide on the rooftop club that she’s performing at, ready to spring out and stop the Penguin. But it turns out the Penguin is ready for Batman’s interference.

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Yep, the Penguin is hiding up in the rafters and just drops a big fire extinguisher on top of Batman, distracting him long enough to activate the gas hidden inside the microphone, and stealing Tessa’s voice. So the Penguin starts to run away and ends up jumping off the rooftop, using his umbrella like a parachute to escape. So Batman and Robin head back to the Batcave and come up with a plan. Batman’s going to go and warn every singer in the city and Robin is going to skulk around that bird radio station to try and see if Penguin shows up. And luckily for Robin, he does. Robin starts to listen to Penguin and his goons planning their next bit of extortion, and learn that their next target is the Wren. But while he’s peeping the Penguin spots him, and ends up capturing Robin with a giant pair of tongs, and kidnaps the Boy Wonder. But before they drag Robin out of the place he uses some of his training and nudges a picture of a wren, causing it to not hang straight anymore.

So when Batman later comes to the bird radio station and finds Robin missing, he decides to investigate. Obviously Batman spots the nudged frame and immediately realizes that Robin has been kidnapped at that the target is a small opera singer called Millie Long who is getting ready to perform Faust that night. So Batman heads to the Opera house and gets ready to stop the Penguin. And he does this by dressing up as a bit-part in the opera so he can stand on the stage behind Long. Oh, and he deactivates the microphone trap, ensuring that Long won’t get her voice stolen. And when the microphone doesn’t go off, Penguin freaks out and jumps onto the stage himself, getting in a duel with Batman. Batman uses a polearm that he held for his role, and Penguin has an electrified umbrella. And things loo rough for Batman. Until Robin comes swinging in, having escaped from the goons, causing a distraction. And when Penguin focuses on Robin, Batman is able to grab a lasso and wrap it around Penguin, causing the electrified umbrella to touch himself, knocking himself out. And that’s the end of Penguin’s insane and elaborate plot to extort singers!

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I had fun with this issue. It was pretty different from the previous issue I’ve had with the Penguin in it, but I don’t know if it was any better. I liked that the Penguin was obsessed with birds in this one and not umbrellas, making him one of the most nuanced villains we’ve had. But while this one didn’t make me go crazy as I typed the word umbrellas over and over, it also wasn’t quite as insane as that one. Until the end that is. I guess the idea of Penguin running around town and using a fake radio station about birds to extort singers is pretty weird, but things get thrown into over-drive when the opera stuff starts. Because we get to see Batman get dressed up in a silly costume, while wearing his normal silly costume underneath, and then duel the Penguin on stage after he takes the place of the Devil in the Faust play. That’s just some grade-A goofiness right there.

“Case of the Silent Songbirds” was written by…someone. Maybe Bill Finger? Not sure. But it was drawn by Jim Mooney, 1947.

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