Bat Signal

Issue 406 – “Your Servant of Death — Dr. Darrk!”

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Greetings everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with very little context. And I have a very fun story to share with you this week, folks. Because we’re going back to the early seventies for one of those classic Denny O’Neil globe-trotting Batman stories that basically ask the question, “What if James Bond was also Batman?” And, boy, do I love these stories. I’m not quite sure why O’Neil and most of the other creators from this era decided that Batman needed to frequently leave Gotham in order to travel around the world getting in shirt-less sword fights, but man are they a blast. They don’t always have the great detective work that I love from Detective Comics, but they have a certain pulp sensibility that I really adore.

The story begins in a generic Mediterranean nation where a famous playboy named Count Orsoni is getting ready to christen a new ship in front of some gathered masses. He names the ship after his favorite saint, St. Diona, and then proceeds to smash a bottle against the hull. This then causes a massive smoke-filled explosion to go off, greivously wounding Orsoni. Which is bad news, because it turns out that Orsoni is friends with none other than Bruce Wayne. So, when Bruce hears the news he hops on a private plane and flies out to the home of Orsoni, hoping to visit his friend while also investigating as Batman. Bruce is met by Orsoni’s cousin, Mara Thursday, who tells Bruce that Orsoni is alive, but will probably be paralyzed for the rest of his life. Bruce expresses sympathy, and also mentions that Batman will probably be showing up soon too, since they’re friends. This does not seem suspicious to Thursday, for some reason. Bruce also meets another friend of Orsonis, a man named Dr. Ebeneezer Darrk. And he doesn’t immediately realize that this man is the villain. C’mon, Batman. But, he does have an ulterior motive for coming to see Orsoni.

 

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So, yeah, apparently a whole bunch of shipping magnates have been getting assassinated lately, and Batman has been hard on the case. He assumes that Orsoni was meant to be yet another victim, and has specifically come to see his friend in order to track down the assassins, because it stands to reason that they’re going to make a second attempt on Orsoni’s life. So, as soon as everyone goes to sleep that night, Bruce slips on his Batman costumes and begins skulking around Orsoni’s mansion, looking for clues. And, while jumping around the rafters he ends up hearing a woman screaming, and races off to find Mara Thursday. He kicks open her door and finds that Mara is alone in the room. She says that an intruder just came into the room, but she didn’t have her glasses on and couldn’t see who it was, but she knows that whoever it was left through the window.

Batman then excuses himself, and races off to Orsoni’s room. See, he realizes that it was all a scam, and that Mara made a fake scream in order to throw him off. So, assuming that there’s a trap afoot, he run straight for Orsoni, only to be attacked by an assassin. The man is wielding some sort of crazy sling where he whips little spiked balls at Batman with such a ferocity that the Dark Knight has to take shelter. He hides in an alcove, and comes up with a plan to trick the assassin. He takes off his cape and cowl and attaches it to a rope, drawing the attention of the assassin while Bruce is able to slip behind him and knock him out, all without him seeing Bruce’s face.

 

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Bruce then checks in on Orsoni’s room, and sure enough, finds the man missing. He hasn’t heard a car leave the mansion, so he figures that they must be keeping Orsoni somewhere in the mansion. He also remembers, from a previous trip to this mansion, that there’s a catacomb underneath the mansion that has an entrance in the library. So, he races there, and realizes that he doesn’t have time to remember the exact entrance to the catacombs, so he uses a spear to just wrench the secret passage open, and races down into the catacomb. And, sure enough, Orsoni is down there in what appears to be a dungeon, along with a cloaked figure with a machine gun.

The cloaked man aims the gun at Batman, and forces the Caped Crusader to get onto one of the torture devices. It’s similar to a guillotine, with Batman laying on a table with a gigantic ax suspended above him. But the trick here is that the rope holding the blade aloft will be in Batman’s shackled hand, so when his finger’s strength gives out he’ll die. Batman realizes that the cloaked man is Dr. Ebeneezer Darrk, because duh, who then admits that he’s a leader of this band of assassins. Darrk then leaves, and it seems like Batman’s about to die. Until Orsoni wakes up, and is able to drag himself to a statue of St. Diona, knocking it over just in time to catch the blade of the ax and save Batman. So, the Dark Knight frees himself, and carries Orsoni back up into the mansion. The assassin from earlier is still in the building, but Batman’s able to knock him out again pretty easily. He then arrests both the assassin and Mara Thursday, since Darrk managed to slip away. But, he promises Orsoni that he’ll continue tracking down the mastermind of this assassination attempt, which appears to be concluded in Batman.

 

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This issue is an absolute delight. Like I said up top, I really love this era of the adventures of Batman, when Denny O’Neil sent Batman all around the world, getting into wonderfully pulpy adventures. I assume that this story is a very early entry into the ongoing saga that would eventually reveal Ra’s al Ghul as the head of the League of Assassins. Unless this is a completely unrelated League of Assassins. Which, I suppose is possible, but who knows, maybe I’ll figure it out someday. But, regardless of all of that, this issue is a lot of fun. I love that Bruce Wayne just flies across the Atlantic Ocean to see a friend of his, while just announcing that Batman may show up, and not to worry about it. But, that’s not quite as ridiculous as the idea that we were supposed to be surprised that a guy who introduced himself as Dr. Ebeneezer Darrk is the bad guy. I mean, you don’t need to be the World’s Greatest Detective to realize that people with evil names are often evil in his life. It’s just simple pattern recognition Bruce.

 

“Your Servant of Death — Dr. Darrk!” was written by Dennis O’Neil, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Frank Giacoia, and lettered by Ben Oda, 1970.

 

 

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