Batman was my favorite super-hero as a kid. My mania for the Caped Crusader was such that I used to have my own bizarre version of the Bat Cave, a corner of the basement where I kept a shoe box full of weather maps and soil samples from around the neighborhood. I wasn't exactly sure how I could tell if a crime was committed in Danny's yard as opposed to Cheryl's yard, but I knew those clumps of dirt held the answer. Yes, I was a weird kid. So nice of you to notice.
DETECTIVE COMICS #130 [December, 1947] came out years before I was born, but, thanks to DC's BATMAN ARCHIVES VOLUME 6 [$49.99], I have read the Batman story from that issue.
The GRAND COMICS DATABASE [www.comics.org] credits the cover to Bob Kane (pencils) and Charles Paris (inks). Design-wise, it's an eye-catching cover. Drawing-wise, it's not so good. Normally, I would question any Kane art credit - Batman's co-creator did use a lot of ghosts during his career - but, this time, I'm going with the GCD identification.
"The Box" (12 pages) was written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Jack Burnley, and inked by Paris. It's a stand-out story, but, in order to write about it, I have to ignore the cover's earnest plea to not tell any of my friends the secret of what is in..."The Box!" Consider yourself SPOILER WARNED!
The Batman and Robin of my youth were super-heroes, but they were far from super-human. They could be out-numbered. They could be out-maneuvered. That they almost always won in the end was due to their sheer tenacity; they never stopped fighting and they never stopped thinking. But, in "The Box," they are always a step behind that object's creator. Right through the story's end.
"The Box" is a tool of revenge. One after another, criminals are enticed to steal the box - which holds a fortune in gems - and, each time, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, it kills them. Four men die before Batman acquires the box and, seeing evidence of tinkering with its lock, takes the precaution of x-raying it before he attempts to open it.
The x-rays reveal secret compartments, one containing jewels and another containing a radio transmitter, as well as a poisoned needle inside the lock. Anyone opening the box would be scratched lightly by the needle and die within the hour, though none of the four men lived long enough to die from the poison.
Batman doesn't need to open the box to find its creator. As he x-rays it, the transmitter comes alive:
"Yes...the voice of the Avenger! You can find me at the Hotel Center, Room 903!"
The "Avenger" is Briggs Carson, "the Diamond King." Ten years prior, his son was killed by a stray bullet during a bank robbery. The bank robbers - the four men who fell victim to "The Box" - were found not guilty because evidence in the case was stolen. Through phone calls, Carson alerted his victims to the jewels hidden within the box. Their greed did the rest.
"Technically," says a shocked Robin, "you're guilty of murder! That poisoned needle you rigged..."
But Carson knows he'll never stand trial. He has no more than a month to live. Carson gives the box and its contents to Batman. Though the script doesn't state the obvious, this grieving father has beaten the Batman to achieve his revenge against the criminals who took his son from him. The jewels go to charity while the now-empty box takes its place in Batman's Hall of Trophies.
"The Box" was written six decades ago and it still packs one heck of a punch. I'd rank it with the best Batman yarns ever, more proof that Bill Finger deserves to be recognized as one of the best comics writers ever. Of course, he should also be recognized as Batman's co-creator, but that's a TOT for another time.
Watch for more Batman memories in future TOTs. I'll be back Monday with a full-length column.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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