Bat Signal

Issue 171 – “The Menace of the Giant Birds”

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Hello everyone, and welcome back for a new installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every issue of Detective Comics ever written, in random order, and with basically no context. And, as you can tell from the cover above, it’s time to talk about the continuing misadventures of Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin. Which, has often led to some very bizarre stories. Because, it seems like it took quite a while for the creators of Batman to figure out what the Penguin’s deal was. He juggled a whole bunch of bizarre gimmicks, and almost every issue I’ve covered with him in it has ended up focusing on a completely different obsession. And, sadly that cover isn’t going to be giving us any hints, with this absurd tableau of Batman protecting a woman from a jet-pack wearing Penguin. And, weirdly, the title of the issue doesn’t do us many favors either, since this story doesn’t end up feeling like a bad B-Movie I would have seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is what it sounds like it would be. So, let’s dive in and figure out what this weird story is actually about.

The issue begins with The Penguin being released from prison, getting a stern warning not to commit any more “bird-crimes.” Penguin promises that he’s going to stay on the straight and narrow, using his vast knowledge of birds to accomplish a worthy goal. he then heads out and finds his old crew, getting them all set up for his latest scheme. And, as you might have guessed, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are pretty suspicious of the Penguin, and immediately start following his post-prison life, trying to figure out what he’s up to. But, they’re pretty thrown off when several weeks pass and all the Penguin does is open a large new bird sanctuary in town, with lots of rare birds, gigantic replicas of birds, and equally gigantic birdhouses and nests. We also begin a trend in this issue where they seem to refer to bats as a type of bird, which is absurd since we all know bats are bugs. It’s all very strange, and the Dynamic Duo end up attending the sanctuary, ready to figure out what’s actually going on.

 

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Batman and Robin find that Penguin is claiming to have gone straight, but their past experiences with this fine feathered fink have given them quite a bit of doubt. So, they begin following Penguin as he goes about his day. And, almost immediately, they see him enter a bank. So, logically, Batman runs into the bank and tackles the little man, assuming he’s going to rob the place. But, weirdly, he’s doing just the opposite, returning money to the bank he stole in a previous robbery, along with a gift. It really confuses Batman and Robin, and despite the Penguin’s insistence that he’s really and truly left his criminal life behind, they keep following him. And, once again, they’re led to the Penguin entering a jewelry store, which he locks as he enters. So, the Dynamic Duo break in, assault the Penguin again, and again learn that he’s here returning something, rather than stealing anything.

And, so it goes. They spend the entire day following Penguin as he travels around town, returning various things that he’s stolen over his life of crime. But, Batman and Robin can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. So, they sneak into Penguin’s bird sanctuary that night, and hide inside one of the giant birdhouses, waiting to spy on the Penguin and his men. And, in the middle of the night they watch as the Penguin and his men get into a car and speed off into Gotham. So, they give chase, and end up running the Penguin’s car off the road as soon as he tosses a package into a store. But, once again, it turns out to be the Penguin returning something stolen. Which, makes them look like a bunch of idiots, once again.

 

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And, after a day full of looking like buffoons, the newspaper ends up interviewing Penguin about his harassment at the hands of the Dynamic Duo. And, in the interview Penguin refers to them as a bunch of boobies, which weirdly is a hint at his plan. Which, Batman immediately figure out. See, it turns out that all the gifts and returned items that the Penguin has been delivering all over town have actually been booby-trapped. So, Batman races back to the store where Penguin returned the clock. Batman bursts into the room, and starts opening the clock, only to find a pressurized gas canister that starts spraying knock-out gas immediately. Thankfully, Robin had been stationed outside, in the Batplane, so when he hears Batman pass out over the radio he heads down to save him. Unfortunately, this was a coordinated gas-attack, and all over town the various places the Penguin had visited are now being knocked out.

At which point the Penguin and his men convert their giant bird/bat sculptures into helicopters. They fly out into Gotham City, and begin robbing the businesses they had gassed. But, after Robin saves Batman the two get into the Batplane, and end up seeing the Penguin flying around in his bat-shaped helicopter. So, they attack the Penguin’s helicopter, and end up forcing the fiend to leap from his helicopter and flee. The Dynamic Duo then use the Bat-Plane’s jet thrusters to destroy the henchmen’s helicopters, taking the villains out of commission. Which, only leaves the Penguin a factor. So, they return to the bird sanctuary, figuring that that’s where he would have attempted to hide. And, they quickly realize that he’s hiding out in some giant model eggs. So, they simply threaten to pummel the eggs with axes, causing Penguin to expose himself in terror, getting arrested in the process.

 

 

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As I said earlier, I’m never quite sure what to expect going into one of these older Penguin stories. He could be obsessed with umbrellas, or the cold, or birds, or top hats, or just high society. Some work better than others, but they’re generally all fun. Just like this story, which chose to take the bird thing to heart, while also taking absolutely every opportunity to remind us that he loves umbrellas, despite that almost never mattering in the plot. But, regardless, I really do enjoy seeing Batman looking like a complete asshole, just wandering around and assaulting the Penguin because he’s sure he’s up to something evil. And, while he does get vindicated by the end of the story, it’s still hilarious to imagine people going about their day and watching Batman just leap out of the shadows and beat up some random citizen who they’ve decided is a criminal. It’s all goofy and fun, and I greatly enjoy the fact that the Penguin is completely justified in his fear that Batman and Robin are going to hack him to bits with axes at the end.

 

“The Menace of the Giant Birds” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Dick Sprang, inked by Charles Paris, and edited by Whitney Ellsworth, 1951.

 

 

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