Bat Signal

Issue 222 – “The Great Batman Swindle!”

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Hello there, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my weekly quest to read every issue of Detective Comics by randomly selecting them. And I’m just going to say right up top, we’re in for a treat this week. It’s kind of a rule here on Bat Signal that you shouldn’t always trust the covers of these comics, because they often have some false advertising and don’t live up to the insane promises they make. But every now and then we run into issues that have covers that don’t even begin to accurately explain how delightfully insane the issue is actually going to be. And that’s what we have today. Because as amazing as that cover is, with a group of Batmen hanging out, one of whom is in a suit, as they appear to be selling the rights to be Batman, and the fact that it’s called “The Great Batman Swindle,” things get so much crazier, and so much more fun. So buckle up everyone, things are about to get wacky.

The issue starts off with a “wealthy yachtsman” named Ned Judson arriving at a creepy and decrepit castle outside of Gotham City for a mysterious appointment. Judson doesn’t really seem to know why he’s been invited to this castle in the middle of the night, but he goes on in anyway. And when he enters he finds something amazing. A man in a red suit wearing a Batman cowl. The man explains that he was the original Batman, but has retired due to injuries. But that doesn’t mean his quest is over, because it turns out that he’s had a group of different Batmen working for him for years, and after careful consideration he and the group have decided to invite Judson to join their ranks. Judson is a huge Batman fan, and because two of the previous Batmen have recently died they have an opening, and they’d love for him to fill it. So, obviously, Judson agrees, and gets made an official Batman. Which is when they start filling him in on the details of his new job.

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Yeah, that’s a lot to take in. They claim that there’s a hierarchy of Batmen, and only he leader, Batman One, gets to have a Robin and answer the Bat Signal. All the rest, including Judson, have to just answer walkie-talkies to get their assignments. But Judson doesn’t care, he just wants to be part of their organization, and heads home, ready to begin training. Which is when we figure out what’s going on. These men are all criminals, and they’ve concocted a scheme to bilk Judson out of his riches. But they really need to sell this, so the next day Judson returns, ready to be trained, and they actually give him some lessons. They give him some acrobatic training and teach him some basics on criminology, which seems to be going above and beyond for the scam, but whatever, I’m not the criminal mastermind here.

And after the training they give Judson his first assignment as Batman. The call his walkie-talkie and tell him that there’s someone breaking into a jewelry store downtown. So Judson gets his costume on and races downtown. Meanwhile, the real Batman and Robin are bored, and decide to go patrol Gotham, starting with that jewelry store. They arrive on the rooftops near the building, and find Judson in his Batman costume fighting the burglar. They’re obviously a little confused, and hold back to examine what’s going on. And they quickly realize that the burglar is rolling with punches and generally pretending to get beat up. Which raises some red flags. And that continues when a second Batman arrives and talks with Judson. Clearly something is up, so the real Batman and Robin tail Judson back to the creepy castle and sneak into a window to investigate. They of course find the fake Batmen, and overhear them talking to Judson, which is when they learn the real scam.

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So it’s kind of a Batman pyramid scheme. Judson is still incredibly down with this plan though, and eagerly agrees to pay them $20,000 for a Batmobile. He then leaves, and the real Batman and Robin overhear the criminals laughing at Judson, saying that they’re going to continue charging him for Bat equipment until he gets wise. But Batman doesn’t think he can tell Judson the truth, worried that the embarrassment will destroy the man. Instead he comes up with a ridiculous plan. That night he real Batman arrives at Judson’s house, claiming to be Batman One. He tells Judson that he’s getting ready to retire, and he wants Judson to take over as the primary Batman. Which will of course require some secret training. So Judson comes with Batman and Robin to the real Bat Cave, and starts getting Batman lessons from the master, quickly becoming a legitimate crime-fighter.

They even take Judson to the Gotham Playhouse to stop a criminal who is robbing it. Judson springs into action and is able to defeat the burglar. He then returns to the castle to show off to the Batmen, who are more than a little confused about what’s going on. But they figure that if Judson is actually stopping some crime on his own he’ll become more convinced and keep falling for the scam, so they let it ride. Meanwhile, the real Batman continues to train Judson, and even sends him out with Robin to stop the robbery of a candy factory. And once that’s finished the real Batman tells Judson that things are ready, and that he’s proven himself. So at the next meeting of the Batmen Judson tells the fake Batman One that he’s ready to announce what’s been going on and take over. This causes the Batmen to freak out, and break their characters, since it seems like Judson actually met the real Batman. Which is confirmed when Batman and Robin drop from the ceiling. They tell Judson what’s going on, and he helps them fight the Batmen. When it’s over Judson is a little embarrassed, but Batman promises that Judson will get credit for taking down this little criminal group, so people won’t mock him. Plus, now Batman knows he has a substitute out there, since Judson did such a great job.

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This issue is a whole lot of fun. It’s kind of surprising the amount of stories that I’ve come across that have been about criminals pretending to be Batman, but I guess it makes sense since it doesn’t seem like it’s that hard to make a Batman costume. And honestly, this is kind of a solid plan. It’s kind of ridiculous that the criminals actually trained Judson a bit to be Batman, but other than that I feel like this could potentially work. I’m sure that there are people in Gotham who are obsessed with Batman, and since the man is so mysterious you could probably convince them that you’re scam is legitimate, and that they too could be a Batman. But I think what I love most about this story is that when the real Batman learns about this swindle, he decides that it makes more sense to not tell Judson, and legitimately train him to actually be a Batman. I don’t know Bruce, that seems like you and Robin were just having a slow week and wanted to kill some time. He could have just swung in that first night he found the Batmen and defeated them, instead of playing this long-con. But that’s not how Batman rolls, I suppose.

“the Great Batman Swindle!” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Charles Paris, 1955.

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