Bat Signal

Issue 142 – “Crime’s Puzzle Contest”

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Howdy folks and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read random issues of Detective Comics. And I’m glad to say that this week my random number generator has smiled upon me and given me a goofy old story with my absolute favorite Batman villain of all time, the Riddler. I’ve had a surprising amount of Riddler stories already, but I’m always going to be happy to see the guy pop up and confound Gotham with his obnoxious puzzles. And let me tell you, there are some real weird puzzles in this one. I mean, I imagine writing Riddler stories has to be almost impossible, coming up with riddles that are legitimate, but easy enough for people to understand and solve by themselves. It’s got to be a monumentally difficult task, and I don’t judge anyone from passing on the possibility to write a Riddler story. But that just means we have to appreciate every Riddler story we find, because they’re impressive accomplishments. So, let’s talk about what I believe is the second Riddler story ever!

Things open up with a flash-back to the last time Batman and Robin dealt with the Riddler, which apparently ended with him falling in a river and Batman and Robin assuming that he drowned and calling it a day. But Riddler obviously didn’t drown, instead he found his way to a sewer drainage pipe and swam to freedom, ready to commit another puzzle-related crime-spree. And just on time he learns that the Great National Puzzle Club is awarding $1,000 to the creator of the best riddle. So, Riddler obviously goes to that ceremony,  tosses a net on the presenter, and just steals the grand instead of coming up with the puzzle. Which seems a little odd, but whatever. But that weird robbery just gets Riddler in the mood to commit more crimes, and the whole competition idea really gets him going, so he begins planning a new ridiculous crime-spree, and he’s decided to make it a competition.

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The Riddler has broken into a large skyscraper and taken control of its lights, spelling out his intentions to hold a puzzle contest. And it quickly gets the attention of all sorts of Gothamites, and the Dynamic Duo. Everyone stands around staring at the building while Batman and Robin burst in to catch the Riddler. And it doesn’t go well, since he’s booby-trapped the floor to fall apart like a puzzle when they come in. So they leave, defeated, and see that the Riddler has posted his first puzzle on the building, telling people to find a “Heavy Wagon and a Furnace.” People decide that that’s saying cart-heater, or car theater, which they take to mean the new drive-in movie theater. So they mob to the theater, while Batman and Robin head over to catch the Riddler.

When they get there they find that the Riddler is busy robbing the box-office of $5,000 while the crowd of people wander around the theater trying to find the Riddler’s prize. They actually do find the hidden grand that Riddler stole from the competition, which seems ridiculous to me, but it keep the crowd busy and riled up, so when Batman and Robin finally burst in to stop him he’s able to flee through the crowd of people. And as we know, getting outsmarted is going to piss off Batman and Robin. So they begin obsessing over Riddler’s plan, and hop in the Batplane to fly around the town to spot him. Which they do pretty quickly, because the Riddler is flying around town in a giant blimp, dragging a rebus puzzle.

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Batman jumps out of the Batplane to fight with Riddler atop the blimp while Robin follows behind in the Batplane, and while the crowd start freaking out about the rebus. Riddler is able to escape the blimp before starting to deflate it, so Batman gets back onto the Batplane and helps Robin stop the blimp from crashing into the city while the townspeople solve the puzzle. It’s dragging a reign, a bow, and a club, which means that the next prize is at the Rainbow Club. So everyone runs to the club, while Batman and Robin head to the upper levels to stop the Riddler. he’s pulling the same bullshit, robbing the place while the police are busy dealing with the sudden flash-mob of people thinking they’re winning a prize, and it works again. Batman and Robin try to deal with the Riddler, but he escapes and heads off to plan his next puzzle.

Which is ridiculous. He gets on a live TV broadcast and starts acting like a lunatic. He holds up a ham, then starts mewing like a cat, and then staring off camera and humming. Which obviously means that Got-Ham Mew-See-Um. Yep, the whole town now runs off to the Gotham Museum while Batman and Robin head in to stop him. And they haven’t had a great track record, so they’re pretty pissed. They head into the museum while all of the guards are fending off the crowd of people trying to get in, and manage to track Riddler down to a room with a sphinx. Which the Riddler somehow got inside of. He pops out of the sphinx, and runs off into the hall of mirrors. You know, like all museums have? Whatever, Riddler hides in the hall of mirrors until Batman uses his deductive reasoning to figure out which reflection is actually the Riddler, punches him right in the goddamn gut, and they arrest him, ending his obnoxious crime-spree.

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Overall this issue wasn’t that impressive. I’m such a huge Riddler fan that I had a good time with it, and I’ll admit that even though the riddles in the issue were completely ridiculous, they were pretty well crafted. Plus I absolutely adore the fact that the Riddler actually hid a grand at that drive-in theater for people to win, when he absolutely didn’t have to do that. But I think my biggest issue with it is that it’s one of those issues that I don’t like very much where we just see Batman and Robin be terrible at their jobs. They’re not even one step ahead of the random rabble of Gotham, they keep showing up at the same time as them all. And then when they finally solve the Riddler’s puzzles, they just easily let him slip through their fingers. It’s just weird. This is their job. They should be better at this! Oh, whatever, it’s a fine issue with my favorite villain, so that’s basically enough.

“Crime’s Puzzle Contest” was written by someone. Probably Bill Finger. And drawn by Dick Sprang. 1948.

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