Bat Signal

Issue 381 – “One Drown — One More to Go!”




Ahoy 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 basically no context. And, as you can probably tell from the cover of this issue, we’re in for a fun time. It’s never a good idea to fully assume that what happens on the cover of an issue of Detective Comics will represent anything at all that happens in the actual story, but it’s still a pretty great promise. I’m not sure why there’s a whole sub-genre of covers that revolve around Batman killing Robin, but I guess it grabbed potential readers. It sure got me excited! And, to add to that excitement, this is a Frank Robbins written issue, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Bat Signal it’s that when Frank Robbins writes an issue of Detective Comics it’s going to be absolutely insane. So, buckle up and let’s see if Batman actually tries to kill Robin in this comic.

The story begins, in media res, with Robin chained up and being dragged onto a boat by a mysterious man in a purple raincoat and fedora. The man rows Robin out to the middle of a bay, and then pushes him over-board, while chained to a cinderblock. And, as Robin starts to sink into the water, screaming in terror, we see that the man in the coat and hat is actually Batman, in his full costume! So, I guess Batman does try to kill Robin. Case closed! Well, until we jump back to an earlier part of the story. Because things actually begin with Batman flying the Batcopter back to Gotham City in the middle of the night after a Justice League mission. For some reason Batman has the whole Batcopter blacked out, so is wearing some infrared glasses to be able to read his control panel. Which is a weird choice, but it lets him notice something that most people wouldn’t. A lighthouse in the Gotham harbor is pulsing out an infrared message in Morse Code. So, Batman stops to examine the code, and finds that it’s something shocking.




Yeah, apparently someone is using the lighthouse to send out a message ordering someone else to kill Robin. This worries Batman, and he sends out a radio call to Robin, hoping to save his ward from whoever is attempting to kill him. Robin is currently out hunting down a group of criminals who have been robbing ships at the docks, and he’s just about to attack a shady guy when he gets Batman’s call. Robin wants to ignore it and keep doing his job, but Batman forces him to return to the Batcave and await his orders. And, with that taken care of, Batman decides to check in on the lighthouse, which is operated by a recently retired sea-captain Batman’s friends with.

Batman talks with the man, Captain Cyrus Spume, and find the man playing chess over a ham radio and hanging out with his pet seal. Spume seems kind of awkward seeing Batman, and this makes Batman decide that Spume is being threatened by some criminals. And, sure enough, after sneaking to the top of the lighthouse he finds some criminals talking about how they’re hunting down Robin. But, they also mention that they have a mysterious boss, so Batman decides to return to the Batcave and make a plan to take down the head of the organization. He starts talking to Robin once he gets there, and finds out that Robin recently found a pair of infrared glasses in the possession of some of these dock-robbing gangsters. Clearly this is all linked, and once Robin got too close to them they put a hit out for him. So, to catch the criminals, Batman decides they need to play along and serve Robin up to them.




Luckily for them, as soon as they make this decision they get a call from the police saying that they got an anonymous call from someone saying that Batman is in trouble, and Robin needs to get there. This is obviously a trap, and they decide to go meet the gangsters waiting to kill Robin, and replace them. Batman is able to sneak up on he man who was waiting for Robin, and he knocks the man out, putting on his coat and hat. He then chains Robin to a cinderblock, but with an oxygen tank, and dumps him into the bay, giving the appearances that the assassination was successful. Batman then sees a message come from the lighthouse saying that he’s supposed to go to a specific pier to get payment.

Batman heads to the pier, and ends up finding the criminals robbing a Dutch ship full of diamonds, putting the jewels into a remote-controlled missile. He watches as the missile is dumped into the water, speeding off to the hideout of the mastermind of the plan, and Batman leaps into the water to give chase. He follows the missile all the way to the hideout, which turns out to be the lighthouse. Oh, and the mastermind of the operation is revealed to be Captain Spume. He decided to turn to a life of crime after retiring from being a ship captain, and began using his connections in the sailing world to gain information on incoming ships for his men to rob. Spume then forces Batman to head to the top of the lighthouse, where he’ll shoot him, when Batman gets an idea. He has Spume’s seal do a trick it did earlier, causing Spume and his men to fall down the steps of the lighthouse. Robin arrives at that time too, since he pieced together the secret identity of the crime boss while submerged under the water, and he watches as Spume sneaks up behind Batman to shoot him. But, the lighthouse is still working, so as Spume gets in position it ends up blinding him, causing him to fall to his death. Batman and Robin then wrap up the rest of the gang while Spume’s seal makes goofy faces.




It’s issues like this that remind me why I enjoy the comics of Frank Robbins so much. Because this comic is absolutely insane. We obviously weren’t actually going to get a story where Batman kills Robin, that would make no sense, but a story where Batman has to fake Robin’s death in order to trick a bunch of nautical thieves is delightfully weird. There’s not really a lot of detection in this issue, except from Robin’s solo work finding out about the ship thieves, but there is a whole lot of subterfuge and deception, which is really fun. I like the idea of a bunch of criminals robbing the ships that come into Gotham’s harbor and communicating by secret lighthouse messages, and I love that the villain had a trained seal that responded to chess pieces. It’s not a particularly deep or clever issue, but it’s a whole lot of fun, and sometimes that’s all that matters.


“One Drown — One More to Go!” was written by Frank Robbins, penciled by Bob Brown, and inked by Joe Giela, 1968.





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