Bat Signal

Issue 102 – “The House That Was Held for Ransom!”

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Howdy 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 essentially no context. And we’re in for a really goofy tale this week, as you probably can surmise from the absolutely insane cover we’ve been granted. Now, as usual, the covers of comic books are not to be trusted, and lie through their teeth in order to get children to purchase them, but they usually hide some kernel of truth within them. So, while we certainly aren’t getting a story were the Joker steals….a dollhouse? We do get something equally crazy. Tell this Joker story, you Hollywood cowards.

The story begins by introducing us all to J Bullion Stickney, the last descendant of a very prosperous Gotham City family known as the Stickney’s. They own a large estate far outside the boundaries of Gotham City that currently only contains Stickney and his aged butler Dodder, as the two recluses lead a quiet life full of seemingly little else but raising pigeons. Until one day Stickney gets a letter in the mail from a famous “pigeon fancier” from Gotham named Reginald Parker, offering to give some of his prized pigeons to Stickney since he’s leaving town. So, even though they hate going into the city, Stickney and Dodder pack their bags and head into Gotham, where they’re met with disturbing news. The hotel they were set to meet Parker in doesn’t have any record of the man staying there. Stickney is furious at the prank, but they also can’t get back to the house, due to the train schedule, so they have to spend the night in Gotham City. And, the next day when they return to Stickney’s mansion, they find something shocking. Someone stole the building.

 

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Oh, did I say someone? I meant the goddamn Joker! How has the Joker stolen an entire house, supposedly with things like plumbing and electricity? No idea, and the issue certainly doesn’t explain any of it. The Joker just straight up stole a house. And, as you can imagine, this new is quickly picked up by Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, who are apparently on vacation. But, when they hear about this insane plot they race back to Gotham. And, as they approach the area where the mansion once was, they spot something very strange. A group of criminals robbing some highway maintenance workers. They quickly dress up in their costumes and chase off the hoods after beating them up a bit. And, when they talk to the maintenance guys they learn that the men were trying to steal a bunch of mysterious bricks that they found on the nearby Stanford Creek Bridge. Which, you know, is odd.

Batman and Robin then continue on to Stickney’s mansion, where they find the old man very befuddled. They talk with him a bit, and Batman ends up ascertaining that the Joker must have stolen the house by floating it down the nearby river. The only problem is that the river goes many different places, which will be very difficult to track down. Until Stickney mentions something about his large brick chimney, which makes Batman realize that the mysterious bridge bricks must have come from Stickney’s chimney, and that those criminals must be working with the Joker trying to hide evidence. So, Batman and Robin grab the Batplane, and begins flying around the area by the Stanford Creek Bridge to try and find the hidden mansion. And, luckily, they end up finding the place by following a group of pigeons who are flying down to a secluded area. So, Batman and Robin lower themselves right down into the forest, right into the Joker’s trap.

 

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So, yeah, the Joker has anticipated that Batman and Robin would be flying around the forest near their stolen house, and he has concocted a trap for them involving pigeons. And, it worked perfectly. The Joker’s men are able to knock out Batman and Robin, before just hucking them into some quicksand. They then pack up and leave, and leave behind a small pigeon whose wing was broken during the trap. They then head back to their stolen mansion so that Batman and Robin can suffocate. But, as you might have guessed, they find a way out of it. Batman manages to rip off his cape and rip it into strips, making a rope with one of the stray bricks that Robin kept from the bridge. The Dynamic Duo then pull themselves out of the quicksand, and seek out a way to find the Joker and the hidden mansion.

Luckily, Batman stumbles upon the broken pigeon, which he recognizes as merely having a dislocated wing. Batman relocates it, and they begin following the pigeon as it slowly makes its way home, back to the hidden mansion, which is covered in a camouflage shroud. Batman and Robin then burst into the mansion as the Joker and his men laugh about the impending ransom they would be getting from the stolen mansion. Batman and Robin begin fighting the Joker and his men, until the Joker flees for his freedom. However, Batman’s able to literally yank the rug out from below him, giving him the chance to knock the Joker out, and stop the fiend. They then apparently bring the house back to where it belongs, and give it back to Stickney.

 

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Golden Age comics can often be a bit of a mixed bag. The tones are all over the place, the art sometimes leaves something to be desired, and they just didn’t seem to know what to do with the characters. And, this issue is kind of emblematic of all of that. It’s fine, but somewhat bland and odd. I mean, the Joker stole an entire mansion, floated it down a river, and attempted to hold it ransom? That’s a hell of a goofy plot, but it doesn’t really make much sense at all, and doesn’t even attempt to. It’s sort of a contemptuous thing, figuring that only kids were reading these comics at the time, so it didn’t matter if it made any sense. Which is just kind of a shame. Some of the issues I’ve read from this era actually hold up pretty well, but this one just feels a little slapdash, while not offering much interesting. But, hey, at least we got to see the Joker do something absurd that didn’t involve shooting talk show hosts in the face.

 

“The House That Was Held For Ransom!” was written by Alvin Schwartz, penciled and inked by Dick Sprang, colored and lettered by George Roussos, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1945.

 

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