Hello, and welcome back for yet another installment of Bat Signal, my perpetual quest to read every single issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with essentially no context given. And boy do we have a goofy issue to talk about today, because we’re taking a trip back to the Golden Age and onto the sea! Because who wouldn’t want to read a story where Batman and Robin get embroiled in a story about piracy? We’ve seen the Dynamic Duo slotted into all sorts of different genres and popular types of story, so of course a pirate tale would work. I just assume you weren’t anticipating a story all about the high-stakes world of oyster piracy, but here we are.
The story begins by introducing us to a man named Captain Jibbs, who is an oyster dredger just like his father, and his father before him. It’s a long-line of dredgers, using the same boat that has been passed down in their family, and Jibb assumed he’d be passing his legacy onto his son. But, when he was instead only given a daughter, named Josephine, he started to feel worried about the future of his family. But, Jo took all of that passive aggressive sexism in stride, and worked to become the best damn oyster dredger she possibly could be, especially when a freak accident on the sea caused her father to go blind. So, she took over the ship, and began a life of oyster dredging, trying to make her father proud. But, at the same time that she’s getting into the oyster game, so is a gangster in Gotham City known as Blackhand, who Batman and Robin happen to be after. One night when Batman and Robin attempt to take Blackhand down, they’re incapacitated, and carried out to sea with his goons to be disposed of.
Batman manages to free himself from his confines by ripping through them with an oyster shell, and gets a drop on Blackhand and his crew. Robin frees himself as well, and they get to work tying the criminals up when something surprising happens. Their little boat runs straight into Jo’s. Batman and Robin are launched into Jo’s ship during the collision, and Blackhand and his men are able to escape and swim to shore. Batman and Robin are irritated that Blackhand and his men were able to escape, and Jo tells them that they were the same pirates who have been robbing the various oyster dredgers lately. Apparently due to conservation it’s illegal to dredge with a motorboat, but Blackhand and his men have been doing just that, using the motor to quickly speed away with their ill-gotten oysters. So, since Blackhand is a thorn in both of their sides, Batman and Robin agree to help Jo stop them.
So, the next day the Dynamic Duo are given a crash-course in oyster dredging, spending the whole day doing back-breaking labor to manually pull up oysters, following in Jo’s family’s footsteps. And, they have a very productive day. But, when night falls Blackhand and his men return, arriving to rob Jo of her labor. Which is when Batman and Robin pop up, ready to fight the criminals. They get into a crazy fight, spreading across both ships, but eventually one of Blackhand’s men is able to pull off some weird maneuver where he uses the jib of his ship to clock Batman in the head, sending the crimefighter over the edge of the ship. So, Robin immediately abandons the ship to save his partner, giving Blackhand and his men ample time to kidnap Jo while Robin dog-paddles an unconscious Batman to shore.
Batman and Robin end up going to comfort Captain Jibbs, while Jo is taken to Blackhand’s hideout, which is apparently just some random cave. They expect to get a random off of the girl, apparently thinking she’s rolling in oyster millions, and force her to write a letter to her father. But, while distracting them with a request for oysters to eat, Jo ends up slipping a pearl broach off of her shirt, putting the peral inside of one of the oysters, and using the pin of the broach to make a series of puncture holes in the letter. Blackhand and his stupid crew find the pearl that was slipped into the oyster, and freak out, deciding to go sell it at a black market fence, before delivering the ransom letter.
And, when Batman and Robin find the letter, they make comment of the strange holes. But, Captain Jibbs realizes what they are, and finds that his daughter has sent them a message in braille, telling them where Blackhand intends to sell the pearl to. So, they head out to the fence, and stake it out, waiting for one of Blackhands men to arrive. And, when that happens they tail him back to the hideout, sneaking into the cave, and leaping out of the shadows, ready to kick some ass. They make sure that Jo is safe, and begin fighting Blackhand and his goons, eventually taking them all down, and arresting them for their oyster piracy. They then bring Jo back to her father, proud in her dredging skills, and they all have a nice oyster dinner.
In the grand scheme of things, this probably isn’t going to become a particularly memorable story, but it was goofy fun while it lasted. The idea of Batman and Robin getting embroiled in some drama involving oyster pirates is pretty damn weird, and it probably would have been better if we’d been given a villain who was more interesting than Blackhand, but it more or less worked. Because a bad guy whose gimmick is that he horribly scared his hand by sticking it in a fire isn’t exactly fear-inducing. But, it’s really the oysters of it all that just kind of makes this story the oddity that it is. It makes me wonder if Bill Finger like, read an article about oyster dredging or something, because the story takes shockingly long breaks to talk about the methods of dredging, the types of boats used, and the conservation laws that help keep the industry afloat, almost like this issue was sponsored by an oyster dredging union or something. But, hey, I’m always going to be up for seeing Batman and Robin swashbuckling on a boat against some gangsters with the help of fun sailor, even if it’s all just a little half-baked.
“Crime on the Half-Shell!” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Dick Sprang, inked by Gene McDonald, colored by George Roussos, and edited by Jack Schiff, 1946.
Categories: Bat Signal