Bat Signal

Issue 149 – “The Sound-Effect Crimes!”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never ending quest to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. And folks, I have a very fun, and very goofy little story to share with you this week. And, I know one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned together over the course of this project is to never trust the covers of these comics. But, when you look at this cover, seeing the Joker just harassing Batman and Robin with sound effects, trying to be as annoying as possible, you may get an idea of what this story could be. However, you can’t even begin to guess the bizarre and wonderful places that this story will get to, almost from the get-go. So buckle up and get ready for some classic late-Golden Age Batman weirdness.

The story begins with the Joker and his henchmen hanging out in what appears to be a tastefully decorated suburban home, when the Joker hears what appears to be lightning striking the house. He panics momentarily, but realizes that it was actually just his henchmen listening to a radio drama. He storms in and demands they explain what’s going on, because the Joker is apparently unfamiliar with the concept of Foley work. And, as they explain that there are people who record sound effects to use for dramatic purposes, he gets an idea. So, the Joker spends a day setting up a sound-proof recording studio inside their hideout, complete with all the necessary accouterments to make all the classic radio sound-effects. He then orders his men to make the noises, while he records them, ready to create a sound library for nefarious purposes. And how exactly do you think the Joker can use sound effects for villainy? Well….

 

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There’s a lot to unpack here. The Joker has arrived at a ritzy theater in Gotham City, that appears to be hosting some sort of acrobats, and is using a series of amplified sound effects to make people think that the roof is collapsing. The audience then begins panicking, and flee from the building in droves, obviously catching the attention of Batman and Robin. But, while they swing into the room, investigating what’s wrong with the roof, the Joker and his men rob the manager’s office. The Joker and his goons then flee from the building, right as Batman and Robin finish ushering out the last people. They recognize the Joker’s car, and realize that the crashing sounds stopped as soon as that car left, and put one and one together to figure out the Joker was behind it all. So, the give chase in the Batmobile, but are swiftly stopped when they approach a large cliff-side outside Gotham, giving the Joker the opportunity to use his sound effects machine to make the other drivers think an avalanche was happening, causing a massive traffic jam that stops the Batmobile and lets them escape.

But, Batman and Robin now know that the Joker is on a new crime spree, and has invested heavily in audio equipment. So, they devise a plan to capture him. And it involves them commandeering a “war-time sound-detector,” a gigantic device that they use to listen around Gotham, searching for strange noises. And, sure enough, they hear what appears to be a fire, but without the hissing of natural gases. So, they track the sound down to a museum, where some firefighters are investigating. But, a few of those firefighters are actually the Joker and his men, who are robbing the place blind. The Dynamic Duo burst into the museum and chase the criminals down, startling them and causing the Joker to drop a book he’d been holding. They then follow the criminal through the museum, until Robin blunders into a “Hall of Glass.” And, as soon as Robin steps foot inside, the Joker turns his machine up as high as it could go, causing the entire Hall to explode.

 

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Robin survives the explosion, as you can see, but they did let the criminals get away. However, it wasn’t a total loss, because the book the Joker dropped has a pretty big clue to his next plan. It appears to be about the Orson Welles War of the Worlds incident, but it’s like the comic couldn’t clear the rights to the name, so it’s referred to as “the Great Martian Radio Hoax.” They assume the Joker is going to cause mass hysteria, and they decide there’s only one way to combat that. They’re going to put the reassuring voice of Batman over the airwaves to counteract Joker’s chaos. So, a few days later, the Joker enacts his plan, and creates an audio-collage that makes it appear that downtown Gotham City is being bombed by enemy aircraft. But, as the people of Gotham City begin to panic, the ominous voice of the Batman fills their radios, telling them it’s all a trick of the Joker, and they decide to ignore it.

The Joker is obviously not pleased by this, but he’s quick on his feet. He has his men record Batman’s radio address, and tells his men that he’s going to use it to spread further chaos. They then return to their base, where the Joker makes a new recording, using Batman’s voice, to make a message warning Gotham of a terrible flood that will kill them all. They then head to a giant record factory that supplies all the local radio stations with records, so that the Batman warning can be mass-produced. But, when they get to the factory they find Batman and Robin waiting for them. Apparently while Batman was delivering his address the other night, Robin was using that giant sound-detector to listen in on the Joker’s plan so they could foil it. The henchmen start fighting with Batman and Robin, but are defeated pretty quickly, leading to Batman and the Joker doing battle on a gigantic fake record player. Things get a little sticky when the Joker pulls off the mock needle and is about to run Batman through with it, but they’re able to change the giant record, causing the Joker to get squashed so they can arrest him, bringing his noisy reign of terror to an end.

 

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This issue is a complete blast. It’s basically everything I love about Golden Age Batman stories rolled up into one incredibly strange and wonderful little story. We get Batman and Robin foiling a ridiculous plan that takes them into the vast untamed wilderness outside Gotham City, ending in them doing battle on a giant replica of a household object. And, as an added little bonus, we get my absolute favorite type of Joker story on top of it all. I’ve talked about this endlessly during this project, but I personally don’t care too much for the more modern, homicidal murder clown version of the Joker. I much prefer the weird prankster of the Golden Age. And that’s who we’re getting in this story, getting into sound engineering just to trick people into running out of buildings so he can steal things. It’s all just so silly and strange, but still kind of qualifies for the Joker’s main shtick of pulling pranks and goofs. It’s a goof that made people think that some sort of new Pearl Harbor situation was occurring, but a goof all the same. It’s just so silly, and I love it so much.

 

“The Sound-Effect Crimes!” was written by Bill Finger and penciled and inked by Dick Sprang, 1949.

 

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DJ Joker, coming to a rave near you. 

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