Bat Signal

Issue 120 – “Fowl Play”

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Hi there everyone, and welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics, in random order, and with essentially no context. And we’re taking another trip back to the Golden Age this week folks, and what’s better, we’re talking about a Penguin story. And, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from these early Penguin stories it’s that Penguin stories are insane. All the classic villains were known for their gimmicks. Joker committed crimes based on comedy, Riddler on riddles, and Two-Face on pairs. But the Penguin? It seems like they couldn’t get a hold on the character, leading him to be interested in birds, hats, umbrellas, and sometimes ice. It’s a real roll of the dice with this guy. So, what are we going to be obsessed with this week? Well, let’s find out!

The story begins with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson sitting around Wayne Manor, reading the paper and keeping up with the local news. You know, like the fact that the Penguin has just broken out of prison. Which, you’d think would be something that the Dynamic Duo would be kept abreast of. But, whatever. And, they aren’t the only one’s reading the paper, because the Penguin is leafing through the paper to find a new crime to pull off. And, luckily, there’s a perfect option. Because it turns out that some new grand encyclopedia of birds is being written, primarily by a respected ornithologist name Professor Boyd, who just so happens to live in Gotham. And, that really pisses the Penguin off, who considers himself the foremost expert in birds. So, the Penguin just drives over to Boyd’s mansion, ready to beat up an old man for knowing more about birds than him, and accidentally ends up getting an internship, primarily because Boyd is quite old and can’t hear well.

 

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So, yeah, Professor Boyd thinks that Penguin is a man named Ben Guin, and has hired him as his personal assistant, all because Professor Boyd is a crazy person who spends his entire life obsessed over birds, and doesn’t even read the paper or watch the news. Which is why he has no idea who Penguin actually is, and just sees him as a source of help with the encyclopedia. And, the Penguin sees Boyd as an easy mark. So, he begins working with Boyd during the day, and pulling off heists as night using his vast collection of birds. And, how does he do such a thing? Why, ludicrously, of course! Such as when he and a good began breaking into a safe, while placing a group of saw-whet owls in an adjacent room, because they make a very similar sound to filing metal, masking the true robbery.

At least, that’s what Penguin hoped would happen. Instead, when Batman and Robin happen upon a building making the sounds of a break in they walk right past the owls, and find Penguin. Luckily, Penguin also had a box of Black Wood Hens ready, which fly into a rage at the sight of red, meaning that they instantly swarm Robin and begin pecking him to death. So, while Batman and Robin deal with these aggressive hens, the Penguin flees. Although, that does give the Dynamic Duo a pretty concrete clue as to the Penguin’s whereabouts. Because these are pretty rare birds in Gotham City, and after some brief investigation they find that they could only have come from Boyd’s mansion. So, they decide to swing by, and just so happen to come across one of the Penguin’s umbrellas. And, logically, they pull on it, which results in them getting snared, because they’ve just been played by the Penguin! Who will now present their skulls as a feast to a hawk.

 

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This is some grade-A villainy here, folks. The Penguin has caught the Dynamic Duo in a ridiculous snare straight out of a Looney Tunes cartoon, and then proceeded to tie them up at the bottom of a hill, put little bird hats on them, and then leaves them be so that a falcon will come and rip their heads apart. But, luckily, Batman knows his fair share about ornithology as well, and recognizes a nearby nest of eggs as one belonging to a Kingbird, a very territorial bird that sees the hawk approaching its nest, and instantly flies into a rage, attacking the much larger bird and distracting it long enough for Batman and Robin to escape their confines.

But, in the time it took to escape the hawk trap, the Penguin has already moved onto his next scheme. Because he’s found out that a large photography company is interested in taking pictures of Boyd’s birds with their new color film, so the Penguin has decided to bring a truck-load of birds to the factory so that he and his men can steal all the silver the company has to make their silver nitrate. And, it goes off pretty well, until Batman and Robin show up to stop them. It results in a huge fight, with the Penguin fleeing for his life. It’s clear that these bird crimes are no longer going to pay off, so Penguin decides to just cut to the chase and rob Boyd. He gets back to the mansion and holds the old man at umbrella-point, demanding that he tell him where he keeps his money. And, in true crazy old person mode, he apparently keeps his money in a safe in a bird’s nest. So, Penguin races off to get the money, and immediately gets snared in a trap among the branches which Batman and Robin apparently left before they went to the photo factory. Which means the Penguin has been caught, and gets to listen to Batman mock him.

 

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Listen, this story isn’t amazing or anything, but over the years that I’ve been doing this project I’ve really come to appreciate these old insane Penguin stories. Basically because of the strange randomness of how they work. Every time my random number generator gives me a comic with the Penguin on the cover it’s a legitimate joy wondering just what in the world he’s going to be obsessed with this time. I think we’ve talked about it all at this point, so it’s just a matter of which of his numerous hobbies will be at the forefront. And, if I’m being honest, I think I most prefer the bird stuff. These stories often strain credulity the most, usually requiring Gotham to be home to numerous rare birds or bird-themed artifacts, but I think they usually lend themselves to the most goofy nonsense. Which this issue has in spades. I mean, it’s popping off random bird facts every couple of pages, all while the Penguin takes advantage of a kindly old weirdo. It’s exactly the type of goofy story that I adore, and why I still get joy from these Batman stories.

 

Also, how could you possibly dislike a story with this insane of a cover? That thing is a work of art.

 

“Fowl Play” was written by someone, probably Bill Finger, penciled by Bob Kane and Win Mortimer, inked by Win Mortimer, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1947.

 

 

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