Bat Signal

Issue 45 – “The Case of the Laughing Death”

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Howdy everyone and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read every issue of Detective Comics with little to no context. And we’re in for a weird little treat today. I haven’t had that many episodes from this early in Detective Comics’ run. And it’s a fascinating experience. Because they hadn’t quite figured out this whole Batman thing. We do have Robin in this issue, actually one of the first couple issues after the character was introduced, but there’s still something off about the story. It wasn’t as dark as the really old issues are known for, but it’s not exactly as goofy and silly as the 50s issues tend to be. But don’t worry about any of that yet, we’ll get into it in a bit. And don’t worry, this issue does not feature a hideous and beaten man getting ready to pummel a small child while tied to a tree. Or does it?

The story begins with Batman wandering around at night, looking for criminals, when he finds something incredibly suspicious. A group of men are shadily skulking around the personal museum of some rich man, which raises a bunch of red flags. Batman sneaks up behind the men, and finds them preparing to rob the place blind. So Batman runs in and begins doing all sorts of needless gymnastic and track and field moves to tackle all of the criminals. He’s also doing something that I am in no way used to seeing. He starts cracking wise. It’s weird. I’m not used to a quippy Batman, and it’s very strange. He beats up the gang, and drops a massive statue on several of them, while one man slips out. Batman chases after the man, and ends up seeing him sneak into a pawn broker. However, when he follows the man in he’s baffled to find he place empty, with no sign of escape.

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Well that’s odd. Batman investigates the pawn shop and he can’t find any leads. So where did the guy go? Well he’s made it into the music store next door owned by an odd man named Rekoj, who is behind the gang. And he is not pleased that his gang came back empty handed, especially when he learns that Batman was involved. He chews the man out, and then goes to his hidden sanctuary below the music store, where he removes his disguise and reveals himself to actually be the Joker. He’s apparently collecting antiquities to sell, but also has an interest in musical related murders, which seems a little muddled, but whatever. We then see him send a special record to a district attorney, which ends up being coated in some sort of toxin that floats into the air when the needle goes over it, causing the district attorney to die cackling.

Batman’s pretty worried about these crimes, but since he has no leads he just heads out into the city to find crimes afoot. And, lucky for him, Gotham is a hellhole and he quickly notices a group of tough looking guys entering a fancy gala. Which seems like profiling, but whatever. He’s right. The guys have jumped the musical performers for the gala, and once they’re out on the dancefloor they take out their  guns and start robbing everyone. However, things are complicated when the Joker arrives, and takes the loot from the criminals. Yep, he’s playing both ends, stealing from his own gang so that he doesn’t have to give them a cut. Things get crazy though when Batman jumps into the room and starts whaling on the goons. Joker is able to slip away though, causing Batman to chase him up onto the rooftop. Joker and Batman then battle a bit, until Joker is able to knock him out by smashing him over the head with the bag of loot. Batman comes too pretty quickly though, and follows Joker back to the music shop where he’s yelling at his goons. However, when Batman enters the room he’s quickly thrown into a trap.

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Whoops! Yeah, Batman has been imprisoned in a little gas cage that Joker plans on letting him suffocate in. Joker then taunts Batman by telling him that he’s off to cross the ocean to get a $500,000 treasure. However, Joker didn’t plan for Batman’s utility belt, so as soon as he’s gone Batman sprays some acid on the glass and quickly escapes. Once that’s taken care of he begins investigating the Joker’s base, and finds a newspaper clipping about a priceless jade Buddha statue being transported by a ship. So that’s where Batman’s off too.

The Joker had a head start though, so we then cut to his brilliant plan. Which begins with the Joker crashing a plane into the ocean near the ship, while wearing his Rekoj costume. The sailors let Joker aboard the ship, and he quickly gets to work knocking out all of the sailors. He manages to get his hands on the jade Buddha, when Batman arrives in his own plane. Batman and the Joker begin sparring below deck, with neither one really gaining an upper hand. Until Joker kicks Batman to the ground and manages to run up onto the deck. Where things get difficult. Because the people up on the deck just see a man in a mask chasing a man holding the Buddha. Said man is dressed like a clown, which is a red flag, but whatever, they assume Batman is the thief. Luckily Robin is on the ship, and he’s able to block the sailors while Batman chases the Joker. Batman’s then able to reach Joker, where the two fight a bit, ending with Batman snagging the Buddha back from him right as Joker falls over the side of the boat, seemingly to his death. Batman apparently doesn’t do any due diligence to find the Joker’s body though, and takes off immediately.

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So yeah, that’s a fun little story. It’s a fun story with Batman stopping the Joker from doing an incredibly goofy little plan, even though it’s clearly early on in the development of everyone. Which makes this a very weird experience. Like I said earlier, seeing a quippy Batman who is swashbuckling around like he’s Daredevil is really weird, but I kind of enjoyed it. It’s also very strange that Robin is barely in this story. For a while I was wondering if maybe he hadn’t been trained yet or something, since he wasn’t going out on patrol with Batman, but then he shows up at the end and I’m just confused. The weirdest part though may have been the Joker’s lack of focus. He’s simultaneously stealing artifacts and killing people with musical themed methods? That’s odd. Why are there two different criminal fixations going on? Neither of which are the Joker’s style. But despite those minor quibbles it’s a fun little issue that serves as a bit of a novelty, which is always nice.

 

“The Case of the Laughing Death” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Bob Kane, inked by Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, and George Roussos, and lettered by George Roussos, 1940.

 

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