Friday, March 12, 2010

Golden Age Batman Review: Detective Comics #39

"The Horde of the Green Dragon"
Bill Finger
Bob Kane
Jerry Robinson
Synopsis: Two millionaires are abducted by mysterious shadowed figures, with a chauffeur getting a hatchet through the head in a particularly violent addition. Does make one wonder how many millionaires this city has though -- two or three seem to die in every Batman adventure. Anyways, because of the use of the hatchet, Batman figures its the work of Chinese assassins. This must be a 1930s era stereotype because I'm certainly not familiar with that association -- a modern version would probably evoke more Hong Kong style Chinese villains than the Mongolian stereotypes we see here.
Anyways, Batman goes to visit his ally Wong (mayor of Chinatown) for information, but tells Robin to stay behind, since this Tong societies are dangerous. Meeting with Wong, he learns that a new Tong is indeed operating, called the Green Dragon, and they are dealing in opium smuggling. What that has to do with kidnapping millionaires is never really explained in the story.
Wong is killed by the hatchetmen, but manages to scratch out the location "Pier Three" into his desk. Batman fights the hatchetmen, but falls out a window and is knocked unconscious.
Meanwhile, the Boy Wonder has completely ignored his mentor's orders and followed him to Wong's. He finds the "Pier Three" clue, and heads down to the docks, but is followed by one of the hatchetmen who attacked Batman earlier. Easily captured (seriously, the bright yellow and red is not the best night-time camouflage), Robin awakes in the den of the leader of the Green Dragon Tong (apparently Bob Kane can't draw a Chinese dragon, so the large jade idol of the Tong instead resembles a Mongolian version of the Jolly Green Giant).
The leader has Robin duel with a talented swordsman, only Robin is given a wooden sword. But before the child is brutally killed, the shadow of the Bat descends on the Chinese criminals. After a two-page fight scene, Batman beats the Tong leader senseless, and then rescues the captured millionaires.
In a brief epilogue, the people of Chinatown make Batman a local hero, Bruce Wayne's fiancee Julie Madison chastises him for not being as exciting as the Batman, and the debut of the third addtion to the Batman's Rogues Gallery -- Clayface -- is previewed for next month's issue.
My Thoughts: This is another classic pulp/noir style Batman story. The late thirties Shadow influences in Bill Finger's work are pretty evident here, but it's nice to see some continuity in these tales, with this being a semi-sequel to the "Ruby Idol" storyline in Detective #35.
The Art: This is another big win for Kane and Robinson, who show great line work and excellent shadowing, though I'll admit they have a big weakness when it comes to character expression -- most faces in Kane's art look like static masks. Still, the dark noir compositions help make an otherwise fairly forgettable tale pretty exciting to read.
The Story: Other than the continuity, this story is pretty much standard pulp magazine fare. For the most part it also pales in comparison to where Finger had brought Batman in Batman #1, so this sort've thing feels like a step back.
Notes: Second story in Finger's "Chinatown" cycle, following Detective Comics #35.