Bat Signal

Issue 374 – “Hunt for a Robin-Killer!”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every single issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with essentially no context. And we have a very odd little story to talk about today, folks. Now, as we’ve well-established, the covers to older comics were purposefully deceptive, showing insane images that were designed to get people to buy the comics, not really to serve as any sort of indication of what’s actually contained within the story. And, as usual, that’s basically the case with today’s story, because as insane as it would be to have a random issue from 1968 feature Batman murdering Robin, that’s obviously not what we’re getting here. No, instead we have something far more elaborate and confusing. So, strap in folks, it’s a weird and bumpy ride.

The issue begins from the perspective of a crazed man wandering the streets of Gotham City, looking for a very specific person. And, he just so happens to stumble upon that person, Robin the Boy Wonder, in the middle of an alley. We then see the man attack Robin, brutally and quickly. He’s easily able to outfight Robin, and really seems close to just straight up killing him, when he hears the sound of Batman rapidly approaching. So, the attacker flees into the night, leaving Robin in a bloody heap for Batman to come across. Which, is how we get the image that the cover attempted to sell us on, with Batman finding Robin and loudly exclaiming that he’s killed him. But, obviously, not literally. He’s more upset that his actions have led to Robin’s apparent death.

 

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But, the reason for this guilt isn’t what you may be thinking, just the general idea of convincing children to help fight a never-ending war on crime, but actually something more specific. Because it turns out that the place Robin got beat up at was a warehouse that some criminals were hiding out in, and Batman had ordered Robin to sneak in the back, forgetting that the back entrance to this warehouse had been boarded up. So, while Batman was fighting the criminals inside, Robin was looking for a way inside, and got jumped by the maniac. So, not really Batman’s fault at all. But, he’s blaming himself, and in that state of mind he decides to something a little reckless, and brings Robin to a regular hospital, where they take off his mask. Luckily, the doctors don’t recognize some random kid, so it’s not a big deal.

And, while Robin is getting taken care of, Batman decides to go track down the monster who did this to his ward, and furiously heads back to the scene of the crime. And, he pretty quickly is able to find clues to suggest that the attacker was a tall, strong man wearing sneakers and a corduroy jacket with leather elbows. And, with that information Batman starts hitting up every shady bar in Gotham, looking for a thug that matches that description. And, eventually, he finds a guy in a bar who seems to match up perfectly. Which means it’s time to beat the shit out of this random guy. The guy really seems to have no idea why this is happening, but eventually gets knocked out so that Batman can drag him straight to Commissioner Gordon’s office. You’d think that there would be someone below Gordon that could handle that, but whatever. Unfortunately, things get complicated.

 

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Whoops! It turns out that this man, Jim Condors, is a fairly famous local boxer, and Commissioner Gordon himself happened to be talking to the guy at the same time that Robin was beat up. Condors even signed an autograph for Gordon. Batman’s still a little suspicious, but after they force Condors to make another autograph that matches, they have no option but to let him go. And, not after Condors announces he’s going to sue Batman for an insane amount of money. So, Batman’s pretty defeated. And, after a quick trip back to visit Robin, he heads back to the Batcave to brood. Which, ends up beneficial, because he realizes something strange. It turns out a while ago Robin arrested Jim Condors’ identical twin brother Ed. Which, gets Batman thinking.

Batman heads over to Ed Condors’ house, breaks in, and immediately accuses him of something insane. Batman has decided that Ed Condors pretended to be his brother after the fight the night before, and was actually the person that Commissioner Gordon met, and he gave him a pre-signed autograph to throw him off the trail. And, the insane thing is, that’s true. Batman then knocks him out, uses his make-up skill to make himself look like Ed, and waits for Jim to show up. Batman pretends to be Jim, talking about how they got one over Batman. Jim admits that they did this all because Robin put Ed away, and they concocted this plan so that Jim could kill Robin as revenge, and they did the switcheroo because they knew Gordon would come and want to meet him. And, with that admission, Batman reveals himself and starts beating the hell out of Jim. And, once he’s taken down, he brings both brothers into Gordon so they can be arrested.

 

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Listen, I don’t know what I was expecting from a comic with a cover where Batman is lamenting the fact that he killed Robin, but I don’t think that this was it. At least, I didn’t think that we’d have a story where Batman tracks down a pair of identical twins that are pulling a grift where they trick Commissioner Gordon using fake autographs so one of them can pummel Robin to death with his bare hands in the middle of a filthy alley. That was a bit of a shock. And, for the most part, the issue itself was basically fine. It got a tad ridiculous when we got to the conclusion, but it was generally an okay story. The only thing that really stood out for me was the thing I talked about earlier, thinking about the guilt Batman must feel forcing a series of orphans to do battle with homicidal criminals each night, putting themselves in imminent danger. It’s a really big bummer, and one that definitely wasn’t getting examined in the late sixties. But, hey, it’s always nice to think about the horrifying ramification of Batman’s actions, I guess.

 

“Hunt for a Robin-Killer!” was written by Gardner Fox, penciled by Gil Kane, inked by Sid Greene, and edited by Julius Schwartz, 1968.

 

 

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