Hi there everyone, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with basically no context. We’re taking another trip to the weird world of early Silver Age comics again this week folks, to discuss a fairly run of the mill issue. The kind of Batman story that just is putting in the work, nothing too special, other than the fact that there’s a bunch of guys running around in dragon masks, having meetings in caves, as you can tell from the cover. Because, shockingly, this is a Silver Age comic whose cover actually does a very good job of telling you what you’re in store to read about, which is a complete aberration.
The issue begins, weirdly enough, with Commissioner Gordon giving a speech to a group of new cadets eager to join the Gotham City Policy Department. He tells them how difficult it is to fight crime in Gotham, but that they should never give up, because there’s always an answer to every crime. And, to demonstrate that, he decides to tell them a story about a recent time when even the great Batman struggled to find he solution to a mystery. Gordon then begins reciting the tale, which begins in a nondescript cave where a group of criminals known as the Dragon Society were meeting. The Dragon Society was made up of five primary members, a Chief Dragon who ran he whole organization, and then four underlings who represented four major cities, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, and Gotham City, none of them aware of any of the others identities, and operating criminals empires all based around anonymity. They’ve been getting this system up and running for a while, and are finally ready to test it out with the Gotham Dragon, and his anonymously hired goons, all of whom are ready to rob a hospital for all the silver they use to set broken bones. Which…I don’t think is a thing? I did a fairly cursory Google search on this concept and came up with nothing, but who knows, the 50’s were a barbaric time.
So, the Dragons have successfully stolen some bone-mending silver, but were unable to keep a guard from sounding an alarm, causing the Dynamic Duo to arrive and start fighting them. They do battle in the hospital, including some fight-scenes involving x-ray machines, but eventually the Dragons are able to open up some tanks of ether, flooding the room in chemicals that cause Batman and Robin to pass out, letting the Dragons escape with their ill-gotten silver. The Gotham Dragon then pays off his anonymous hired goons, and takes the silver to be melted down and recast into statues to be sold in one of the other Dragon’s cities, making the crime virtually untraceable.
And, emboldened by this defeat of the Dynamic Duo, the Dragon Society decides that this test run was a rousing success. They begin mocking the citizens of Gotham, and the Dragons in the other three major cities begin pulling off increasingly brazen heists, throwing the country into such a panic that Batman ends up calling some sort of conference between the police commissioners of each afflicted city. But, there just doesn’t seem to be an answer. Batman, Robin, and the Gotham City Police Department begin cracking down on crime, looking for members of the Dragons, but each one they find proves useless, since they don’t know anyone else in the organization, or what the plans are. So, Batman decides they need to get ahead of the Dragons, and he begins scoping out possible attacks, which brings him to another frankly absurd idea. A giant ship that’s transporting a train full of expensive fur coats across a river.
Batman and Robin get aboard this massive ship, and sure enough find the Dragons trying to loot the train being carried across the lake. Batman and Robin fight with the Dragons, but it’s clear that they had a perfect getaway planned. Because as soon as the ship gets close enough to the shore, the Dragons all bail off, and get into an awaiting sports car. Batman tries to chase after them, but the little car is able to travel down an awaiting subway station entrance, where the Dragons are able to lose the Dynamic Duo, slipping into the sewers and to their freedom. This throws Batman into a depression, unable to figure out how to stop the Dragon Society.
That is until a random beat cop recognizes a known criminal named Mack Hodges wearing some nice clothes. This makes them think he’s involved with the Dragon Society, so Batman starts following Hodges, and sure enough, he ends up at the Gotham City Museum with some other Dragons, stealing a giant Buddha, which is then brought to a warehouse belonging to an arts dealer named Harvey Straker. Batman then beats Straker up, and finds that he’s the Gotham Dragon. So, he dresses up in his Dragon costume and attends the next Dragon Society meeting. Unfortunately, Batman doesn’t know their protocol, and is almost immediately found out. But, he thankfully brought along some police officers just in case, and they’re able to flood into the cave and arrest the Dragons, bringing down their Society, and giving Commissioner Gordon a nice speech to his group of cops.
I don’t know, this issue is fine I suppose. It’s just a fairly standard story from this era. There’s no adventures in the vast wilderness outside Gotham City, there’s no fights atop giant versions of household objects, it’s just a story about a bunch of nameless goons getting the better of Batman and Robin, until they suddenly don’t. I will say that the idea of the Dragon Society is a solid one, and their plan of criminal anonymity is one of the better ones I’ve seen from these weird criminals in this period of comics where they seemed too worried to use some of the crazier villains. It’s not as insane as having an entire underground criminal society or anything like that, but this anonymous Dragon gang wasn’t a terrible idea, they just should have accounted for the fact that no one should operate crime out of Gotham City.
“The Secret of the Dragon Society” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Sheldon Moldoff, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1959.
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