Bat Signal

Issue 432 – “The Great Rip-Off Mystery!”

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Howdy everyone, and welcome back to another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. And folks, we have a hell of an issue to talk about today. The Random Number Generator gods have smiled upon us and given us another story from the early seventies written by Frank Robbins. We’ve talked about a few comics written by Robbins so far during this project, and they’ve all be an absolute treasure. His plots are fun, his dialogue is absurd, and the action is plentiful, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And, as an added bonus, we get to see Batman leave Gotham to track down a gang of mysterious thieves who keep dying in more and more absurd ways. This is the closest we’ve ever come to Batman staring in a Coen Brothers movie, folks, and I’m really into it.

The issue begins with a man quickly walking through the streets of Gotham City one night, trying to hail a cab. He has a suitcase handcuffed to his wrist, and seems worried that he’s running late. And, to make matter worse, as he’s passed by by yet another cab, two street punks show up and attempt to rob him. They jump him from behind, and assume that if he’s walking around with a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, there must be something good inside. Unfortunately, the guy isn’t just some random businessman, and he’s actually pretty adept at martial arts, getting into a big brawl with the two punks. The punks then decide to change up their strategy, and pull out guns, causing the man with the briefcase to pull out one as well. A gunfight ensues, and while the briefcase is able to deflect one of the bullets, another hits its mark, killing the man. The two punks then try to open up his briefcase, when they’re attacked by the Caped Crusader.

 

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Batman makes short work of the punks, knocking them both out and tying them up for the police. He informs the cops of the criminals, and the murdered man, through a radio on his belt, and starts to investigate the corpse, which turns out to belong to a man named Andrew Willis. He of course gets interested in the briefcase, especially because it’s apparently bullet-proof, and ends up opening it up, finding some shocking contents. It’s about a million dollars in cash, but all of it is ripped in half. Batman assumes that someone else has the other half of the cash, and decides that this must be the money that was stolen in a bank heist earlier in the day. So, he heads out to the police station to talk with Gordon about what’s going on.

Gordon agrees that this must be the heist money, but they have no way to knowing where the other half is. Until Batman proposes something insane. Also inside the briefcase was a plane ticket to Virginia, so Batman assumes that that’s where the other criminals are going to be waiting. So, Batman goes down to the morgue, and using his expertise in makeup, he changes his own face to look like Willis’. Batman then heads to the airport, and flies to Virginia, all while wearing his make-shift mask. And, when he gets to Virginia, he realizes that he didn’t exactly have a plan past this point, and just kind of meanders around the baggage claim with the briefcase, until a woman from a car rental agency approaches him and gives him his keys. “Willis” then heads out into the parking lot, gets in his car, and….

 

 

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Whoops, I guess Batman’s dead. Short issue this week, everyone. After the explosion destroys the car the briefcase is launched into the air, only to be caught by the car rental girl, who races away on a motorcycle. Luckily though, Batman’s alive. Shocker. Apparently he realized it made no sense that the girl would recognize him, since Willis would have reserved the car over the phone, and figured she was a member of the gang. So, he figured out how to turn the car in while hiding under a different car, surviving the explosion. Batman then heads over to a helicopter that is idling for some reason, and steals it so he can follow the girl on the motorcycle.

Batman then races after her, following her as she drives out into the boonies. Unfortunately, while Batman is following her, she suddenly vanishes. He lands the helicopter to investigate, and finds that she drove off a broken bridge, crashing to her death below. He heads down to the mud under the bridge, and finds a set of tracks suggesting another member of the gang murdered her. So, he follows the tracks, and ends up encountering the last two members of the gang, with the two briefcases. The men yell at each other across a Civil War battlefield, neither one trusting the other. They finally agree to meet in the middle, but the guy who killed the motorcycle girl ends up stepping on a landmine and blowing up. The final gang member then retrieves the briefcase, right as Batman races out to confront him. The guy’s a little shocked at seeing Batman in Virginia, but just picks up a musket that was apparently lying on the ground, and gets ready to bayonet him. But, this is the goddamn Batman we’re talking about, so it doesn’t exactly go well.

 

 

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This issue is a hoot. Basically everything about it works for me, and it’s just an absolute blast. I’ve loved every single issue I’ve read that Frank Robbins wrote, and this is no exception. The way that he wrote dialogue, with a crazy, almost soap-operatic flair, just makes me smile every time I read it. And, to make matters better, we get an absolutely wacky story with Batman chasing down a bunch of murderous villains who just keep knocking each other off, while Batman kind of ineffectually watches. Batman does some read detective work, along with his make-up nonsense, but it’s also fun to watch Batman be like, two minutes late to everything while a bunch of dumb criminals kill each other. There’s not a whole lot of depth or anything to this issue, but it’s just a fun little story, which is all I need sometimes.

 

“The Great Rip-Off Mystery!” was written by Frank Robbins, penciled by Bob Brown, inked by Murphy Anderson, and lettered by Ben Oda, 1973.

 

 

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