Howdy everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my ongoing mission to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. And, folks, as you can tell from looking at that cover, and reading that title, we have something wonderfully weird to talk about this week. One of the biggest rules that have been established during this project is that you can never trust the covers to deliver on the insane promises they make, but in this case the issue meets those expectations, and exceeds them. Batman’s going to be rustling some cattle this week, folks, and in the mean streets of Gotham City no less. But, this urban cowboy is going to be doing more than riding a mechanical bull! Is that the weirdest reference I’m going to make this week? Let’s find out!
The issue begins, logically, with Batman swimming underwater in a river outside of Gotham’s harbor, rapidly approaching a slow moving barge. And why is he doing that? Well, the story immediately goes into a flashback, to just an hour earlier, when Bruce Wayne got a call from Commissioner Gordon just as he was getting out of the shower. Well, actually, it was a call for Batman, requesting his help. Turns out that there’s been a rash of cattle thefts from the slaughterhouses along Gotham’s East River, with no real leads. Every slaughterhouse in Gotham is in the same general area, so the missing cattle would be easy to find if it was someone among them. But, Gordon has just received a tip that another slaughterhouse is about to be hit, and that those cows are going to be shuttled away on a cattle barge. So, Batman races out of Gordon’s office, gets his scuba gear, and starts swimming around the river until he comes across the barge. Batman slips aboard the barge, and quickly finds the only human being aboard. The man, Tad Wolfe, attempts to shoot Batman, but his gun jams and the Caped Crusader is able to make quick work of him.
Batman calls Gordon up, informing him that in under and hour he solved the crime that Gordon and his men have been worrying about for a week, and tells him where he can pick up all of his cows. Batman then brings Tad Wolfe into police headquarters where he can be processed, only to find Tad’s brother, a rich trucking magnate named Zachary Wolfe, waiting for them. Zachary yells at his brother, furious that he’s dragged their family name through the mud, which is Batman’s cue to leave. Because Bruce has had a long day and is ready to get home.
A week later, Bruce wakes himself up in the middle of the night after having had a recurring dream that’s been happening every single night since the cattle barge. It’s a memory of when Bruce went to gain tracking knowledge from an American Indian medicine man in New Mexico, telling Bruce about ways that your prey can trick you, before everything ends abruptly with a mysterious clicking noise. Bruce has been having the same dream, with no real insight, for a week, and it’s really starting to bother him. But, before he can think about that, he has to go to a charity dinner, where none other than Zachary Wolfe is in attendance. And, while talking with Wolfe, something in his mind finally unlocks the mystery of his dream, realizing that the clicking sound came from when Tad Wolfe’s gun jammed in such an unusual way. It makes Bruce think that Tad jammed it on purpose, raising into question why he would do such a thing. So, to get some more info, Bruce heads to the slums, in disguise, to get info on Tad Wolfe.
Through this little poker game Bruce gets the information he needs to determine that this is all a big scam. So, he suits back up as Batman and heads to the headquarters of Zachary Wolfe’s trucking company, where he finds Wolfe himself desperately barking orders to his fleet of truck. Batman makes his presence known, and Wolfe tells his men to immediately dump their cargo, not really attempting to remain subtle. Batman quickly destroys his radio, but the order had already gone out, so he quickly knocks out Wolfe and races out of the building, hopping into the Batmobile, and heading towards the part of Gotham apparently dominated by slaughterhouses. Which is when he comes across a fleet of now empty semi-trucks, and a whole shitload of cattle just milling about.
Batman quickly calls Commissioner Gordon, telling him about the sudden influx of cattle on the streets, and waits as some GCPD back up arrive, complete with mounted officers. Batman commandeers one of their horses, and quickly establishes himself as the leader of this convoy. Together with the police officers of Gotham, Batman begins wrangling all of the cows, marching them through the streets of Gotham and back to the slaughterhouses where they’ll be…well, slaughtered. And, once he’s done playing cowboy, Batman returns to Zachary Wolfe’s building, where Commissioner Gordon has already arrived and arrested Wolfe. So, what exactly is going on? Well, it turns out that Zachary Wolfe has been operating some sort of truck-based cattle-rustling scheme for a while now, but purposefully brought his brother Tad into the picture in order to protect him. Tad apparently has quite a few gambling debts, to the point that there’s a bounty on his life. So, he had Tad sit aboard the cattle barge, call in his own tip, and then pretend to jam his gun so that he’d be taken alive and placed into police custody so that he can’t be assassinated. Complicated! But, Batman has saved the day, and understood what that weird clicking dream was about, so everybody wins!
This is not exactly the strongest issue of Detective Comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing with you. The mystery isn’t very well flushed out, and doesn’t actually have much mystery at all. Unless you count why Bruce Wayne is having weird dreams about trackers and clicking as a great mystery. As it stands, the only part of this issue that really has anything noteworthy in it are the few pages where Batman becomes a cowboy and rides through the streets of Gotham City mopping up the after-effects of the cattle-rustlers. But, that stuff is pretty great. I feel like a city like Gotham probably shouldn’t have a slaughterhouse in the middle of it’s busy thoroughfares, let alone a whole bunch of slaughterhouses, and I’m still not quite sure what Wolfe’s plan was. I mean, he was stealing all the cows of Gotham City, loading them on trucks, and sending them somewhere else to sell them? I guess? I don’t know, but I got to see Batman riding a horse and dealing with a stampede of cows, and that’s at least something I haven’t seen before, which is increasingly becoming a rarity here on Bat Signal, so that counts for something.
“Midnight Rustler of Gotham City” was written by Elliot S Maggin, penciled by Ernie Chank, inked by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, lettered by Ben Oda, and edited by Julius Schwartz, 1975.
Categories: Bat Signal
I had that issue! Thanks for posting this. I had forgotten all about that. I remember the cover vividly, but don’t remember much of the story. As a kid, I probably was a little lost by it, too, so I very much enjoyed reading this.
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Oh that’s awesome! I glad I could take you down memory lane!
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