Bat Signal

Issue 52 – “The Secret of the Jade Box”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing project to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order, and with very little context. And boy oh boy do I have a weird issue to talk about today, folks. Now, I do want to say that I ran into a bit of a conundrum with this issue when my random number generator spat out 52, because I had to decide what to do with the issues of Detective Comics from the New 52 era when they started renumbering thing. But, I figured that I would pull those when I got to the actual number they were, not the renumbered ones. But don’t worry, because instead of talking about the last Detective Comics issue of the New 52 era I have something just as interesting. Intense racism! Yeah, this is something I’ve never had to deal with here on Bat Signal, which is actually kind of surprising. So buckle up folks, because we’re going to get to see what the creators of Batman thought about Asian folks in 1941. And, let me tell you, it’s not too kind.

The issue begins with a rich old man named Mr. Potter heading into a curio shop owned by a man named Achmed. Mr. Potter apparently has a fixation on jade artifacts, and has built quite a collection of them. And Achmed has something new and interesting for Mr. Potter. A small box made entirely of jade. Mr. Potter snatches it up, and returns to his mansion to put the box with the rest of his collection in his study. And while he examines the box he sends his servant Thomas out to call up Bruce Wayne, because the two were going to meet. And as Mr. Potter fiddles with the box he accidentally discovers a hidden compartment, with something inside of it. But we don’t get to know what’s inside it quite yet, because as Potter discovers the compartment some shadowy person enters the room through the window, and kills Potter. And, it just so happens that shortly after Potter’s death Bruce Wayne arrives. He and Thomas obviously freak out a bit, and call the police, who are less than helpful.

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Yeah, this police officer just seems to shrug his shoulders and decide the case will never be solved. Good work GCPD! Luckily Bruce Wayne is in the room, so he excuses himself, goes to tell Dick Grayson all about the cool murder he just saw, and gets his costume on. Batman heads off to Potter’s mansion, and has a chat with Thomas, who doesn’t seem too confused about the appearance of a man in a costume. Thomas tells Batman all about the jade box, tells him where it came from, and Batman even finds the hidden compartment. Batman then realizes that there must have been something in the compartment that someone else needed, and heads off to grill Achmed. And, it turns out he’s just a couple steps ahead of a gang of Chinese gangsters, who also arrive at Potter’s mansion and interrogate poor Thomas about the jade box.

Batman reaches Achmed’s curio shop, and the man isn’t really able to tell him too much about it. He didn’t have a good explanation of the man who sold him the box, so Batman heads back out into the night, looking for a new lead. And as soon as he comes out of the shop he’s jumped by the Chinese gangsters who attacked Thomas earlier. Batman is able to fight the gangsters off, all while calling them Orientals, until they’re finally defeated. But, instead of interrogating these gangsters Batman just leaves, figuring he’ll sort things out on his own. And apparently this was the right call, because the story then shifts ahead a couple days later, when we dip in on the “Oriental Quarter” of Gotham home to…oh god. “Tea shops, Chop Suey places, and laundries,” where we see those same gangsters threatening some local business-owners and getting protection money from them. And this is apparently happening a lot, causing several business-owners to approach a local leader named Loo Chung for help.

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Yes, Loo Chung is apparently some sort of unofficial mayor in Chinatown, and these business-owners want his help dealing with the protection rackets. And if Loo Chung is unable to help, they think that Batman would be the next best thing. And, as luck would have it, Batman is apparently skulking in the corner, waiting to talk to Loo Chung. He then leaps from the shadows and offers to help everyone out. The business-owners are thrilled to see Batman, and they start to tell him all about the protection rackets. And it’s a doozy of a story. Because these rackets have been going on since the time of Ghengis Khan, who passed down a special ring to all of his descendants, giving them permission to harass new generations of people. And they’re convinced that some new Khan has arrived in Gotham to torment them. Batman promises to help them with this mysterious Khan, and then gets ready for his appointment with Loo Chung to talk about the jade box.

And, of course, Loo Chung then straight up reveals that he’s the new Khan, that the jade box held the special ring of the Khan, and that now he’s going to kill Batman for getting too close. Not cool Loo Chung. He then drops Batman down a secret trapdoor, down into a pit with a wild dog in it. Batman has to fight off the dog, which isn’t too difficult, and then gets to work escaping. However, as he does this Loo Chung sends in another soldier, who attacks Batman with a whip. Batman fights the soldier off, and starts to help a chained up old man who is also prisoner, just as Loo Chung and some new goons arrive. However, as Loo Chung is about to attack Batman a weird dragon seems to appear in the room, spooking the goons. It turns out this is just Robin, finally showing up in the issue, and he and Batman attack Loo Chung and his goons. They easily defeat them, and Batman talks with the old man who was imprisoned. Turns out he’s the father of the last unofficial mayor, and he hid Loo Chung’s ring in the box so that people wouldn’t believe he was the new Khan. He then started screwing with everyone in the hopes that someone would get on Chung’s trail, and bring him down. Mission accomplished!

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So, yeah, this is a weird issue. On one hand, it’s a pretty fun little Batman story. And a typical one. We have Batman getting involved in a murder that’s linked to some weird mobster, and he heads all around Gotham, beating up some goons, until finally toppling a burgeoning criminal empire. On the other hand, this issue is full of some incredibly problematic views on race. I mean, yes, this issue was released in 1941, and given that proper historical context this probably wasn’t too terrible. Things honestly could have been worse. But from a 2017 standpoint this issue is absurd. And I’m actually pretty shocked that it’s taken this long for me to get such an issue. I would have imagined that most of the forties and fifties would have been rife with these troubling stories, but other than perhaps some slander on Italian-Americans this is really the first truly racist issue I’ve come across. And while the story itself isn’t a bad one, the racism really keeps me from enjoying this story too much.

 

“The Secret of the Jade Box” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Bob Kane, inked by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos, and lettered by George Roussos, 1941.

 

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