Greetings everyone, and welcome back to yet another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with essentially no context. And we have a very goofy little issue to discuss this week, folks. It’s time to get Shakespearean here as Batman gets to solve a murder during some Shakespeare in the Park! I’m not much of a Shakespeare guy, but when you add Batman, things tend to go pretty well. Not that this is going to be a story of Hamlet with Batman tossed in, as amazing as that would be. Plus, we definitely get to see Batman deal with that ridiculous character up there on the cover, looking like he’s the damn Hatbox Ghost from the Haunted Mansion. It’s a wild one folks, buckle up.
The story begins with Batman lurking outside a small amphitheater in the middle of a park in Gotham while a theater troupe is putting on a modernized production of MacBeth. We don’t really get to see what’s modern about it, other than the costumes, but we see that their MacBeth is dressed as a police officer, and he’s who Batman is keeping an eye on. The actor’s name is Barry Johnstone, and Batman is convinced that someone is trying to kill him. Someone tried to shoot him at his apartment that morning, and as Batman lies in wait he sees the glint of a gun in the night, and manages to push Johnstone out of the way right as the gun is fired, barely saving Johnstone’s life. And, as Batman watches the show go on, he gives chase, following the assassin into the night. The assassin is in some sort of strange costume, and hopes into a waiting horse and buggy. Batman manages to leap onto the buggy, and reaches forward, grabbing a hold of the assassin’s mask.
Unfortunately, when Batman yanks off the assassin’s mask, the buggy hits a bump, and Batman is thrown off. He cracks his head on he group, and momentarily loses consciousness. And, when he comes to, he finds that the assassin is long gone, and all Batman has to show for it are a bunch of cuts on his hand. He has no further leads, so he decides to remove his Batman costume, and do some sleuthing as Bruce Wayne. For some reason he’s allowed to just stroll backstage during the performance, and he begins to talk to the director, Del Sartre, and some of the other actors. Bruce seems to know Sartre, and they talk about the strange attempt on Johnstone’s life.
Sartre has no idea who would want to kill Johnstone, and the two men watch a bit of the show, as veteran actor Ezra Jimson is doing his comedic role as the Porter, stumbling around stage in a way far more realistic than he’d done in rehearsals. Which earns some ire from Johnstone’s understudy, Tod Dunn, who is very judgmental of everyone else’s acting. And, as the scene changes to the witches and their pyrotechnic cauldron, Bruce talks with Jimson, who seems to hate the modernized updates that Sartre has made to the show. Bruce then excuses himself, and gets into his costume again, only to find a struggle in the woods behind the theater. It looks like Sartre is trying to seduce Claire Foster, the actress playing Lady MacBeth, who is currently dating Johnstone. And, as luck would have it, Johnstone stumbles upon them as well, and he and Sartre start fighting until Batman breaks it up.
He’s able to get the thespians to break up their little love triangle quarrel, and watches as they go their separate ways. And, as they leave, Batman notices that there’s a small pistol on the ground where they had been fighting. So, there’s a bunch of suspect, and a murder weapon, but no real evidence. So, Batman runs home to confer with Alfred, and they really have no idea what’s going on. Bruce then decides that he’s going to have to just go back to the performance the next evening, and see if he can track anything down. And, he does! Because when Batman arrives at the ampitheater the next day he finds Claire Foster wandering in the woods, holding the mask of the assassin. Batman asks her what’s going on, and she admits that that gun from the night before was hers, but she had no idea what’s going on.
She does give him the mask though, and before he can continue the interrogating more strange things pop up. Because a groundskeeper has found that some nitro used to blow up tree stumps has been stolen from a maintenance shed. But, Batman does have a stroke of good luck when he finds that Johnstone was to nervous to perform, and called in sick. However, right as Batman starts to think that things may be safe, he finally figures out what’s been going on. He looks at the mask of the assassin and finds some shattered glass in the eyes of the mask, which is what he cut his hands on. The glass belongs to eyeglasses, which means that the assassin had vision problems. And that makes him realize that it wasn’t Johnstone who was the attempted victim, it was Sartre. The assassin just was a lousy shot. And who is the assassin? Jimson! He was stumbling around on stage earlier because Batman had broken his glasses earlier in the night, and he’s doing all of this because he hates what Sartre has done to his favorite Shakespearean play. Jimson tries to attack the Dark Knight, but Batman’s able to deflect his blow, and knock the man out, all while an aghast audience watches on. Jimson is then carted away, and the shows are allowed to go on.
I really enjoyed this story. It’s kind of everything I was from a Detective Comics story. We have a legitimate mystery, actual clues, lots of suspects, and Batman doing some actual detective work. There’s no crazy supervillains for Batman to fight, he really is just a detective whose wearing a cape and cowl instead of a trench-coat and fedora. And the backdrop of a Shakespearean performance is a wonderful little addition, adding some silly drama to the whole thing. I’m not exactly sure why the assassin decided to dress like a Haunted Mansion reject but whatever, it makes enough sense to all come together in the end. There’s really not much to the story, it’s just a very cut and dry mystery that was exceedingly well-handled in just fifteen short pages, which is kind of all I’m looking for when I select one of these old issues. And boy did it deliver.
“The Stage is Set…For Murder!” was written by Dennis O’Neil, penciled by Irv Norvik, and inked by Dick Giordano, 1972.
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