Wednesday 25 August 2010

Batman's Detective Comics #458

Batman Detective Comics #458 Man-BatAs an adult, it's hard for me to know just why I loved Batman so much when I was a kid. He had no personality, he had no superpowers, for the most part his enemies were rubbish, and all the fun stuff you associate with him - like the Batcave, Wayne Manor, Robin and the Batmobile - had been pretty much dumped by the time I started reading the strip, meaning that, if not for the silly costume, you could at times have been forgiven for thinking you were watching an episode of Murder She Wrote.

All the goofy stuff had been sacrificed in an attempt to make the previously embarrassing strip more "grim and gritty" than it'd previously been but, in all honesty, for the most part it was no more grim and gritty than the early Iron Man stories.

In the end, I think what grabbed me was the cape and the fact that, as he didn't have superpowers, he was one of the few costumed crime-fighters I felt I too could be like. This of course ignored the fact he was a billionaire and I wasn't.

This issue's a perfect example of the Murder She Wrote tendencies, as the man they call "Bats" has a somewhat pedestrian whodunit in which he has to track down a murderer who may or may not be into tattooing.

Needless to say Commissioner Gordon messes up the whole investigation, arresting completely the wrong man, while Batman solves it with ridiculous ease, mostly because the only clue needed lands in his lap. The truth is that, having solved the crime, Batman doesn't even need to do anything. As the villain's just some bloke, Batman could find a phone booth, call the police and let them make the bust.

The fact that he doesn't is of course down to the Sherlock Holmes conundrum.

Despite the boasts, Batman isn't and never has been the world's greatest detective. That's clearly Sherlock Holmes, a man so smart he solved nearly all his cases without even leaving his drawing room. You'd think, therefore, that if anyone could get away with dressing up as a bat, it'd be Sherlock Holmes.

Sadly he couldn't.

Why? Precisely because he solved all his cases without leaving his drawing room. Just how seriously would anyone take a detective who took to dressing up as a bat in order to sit in his own house? To justify such a get-up, it's necessary the detective actually gets off his backside and runs around a bit.

Because of this, Batman couldn't justify dressing up as a bat to stand in a phone booth and call the police. Therefore he has to apprehend the villain himself. He does it of course but you can't help feeling that the talents that once enabled him to face aliens and giant robots every month are going somewhat to waste on such a foe.

I suppose it's an obvious thing that if you want to create an arch-rival for a super-hero, all you need do is reverse that hero's name. So, for Batman, you'd get Man-Bat, for Spider-Man you'd get the Man-Spider and, for Dr Strange, you'd get The Strange Doctor. As far as I'm aware, Marvel Comics never gave us the adventures of The Strange Doctor, though I'd read them if they did.

DC, on the other hand, did give us the adventures of Man-Bat.

I'm just not sure why.

He was hopeless.

In the 1970s, Marvel UK gave us Captain Britain, a strip that started badly and then got worse, ending up, ignominiously, as a back-up strip in their weekly Spider-Man comic and being very badly drawn by Pablo Marcos.

Sadly, the back-up in this comic does nothing to make me any keener on Pablo's work, as we get a Man-Bat tale by him in which Man-Bat's wife turns into a bat then turns into herself then turns into another woman completely, before a Baron Mordo type turns her into a statue.

You can't get round it, Man-Bat just doesn't grab me at all. He looks bad. He's ineffectual. He says, "Skreek!" at the start of every sentence. And everything he does seems to revolve around his wife. I think there might be a good argument that, just as no good super-hero should have parents, no hero should have a wife. Somehow domestic arrangements never sit well in conjunction with super-heroics. With the lameness of its hero and the somewhat random feel of the plot, reading this tale feels like I've blundered in halfway through an Atlas comic.

And that's never a good thing to say about anything.


Kid said...

I quite enjoyed the Man-Bat tales drawn by Frank Robbins, but I haven't read any since the 70s - pehaps they woul make me cringe now. I remember visiting my old primary school as a teenager, and being surprised at how low the sinks and toilets were when I had to visit the loo. Perhaps it's a bit like revisiting some comics from our youth - they just seem much "smaller" than they did at the time. (Not the greatest analogy in the world perhaps, but the best I could think of off the top of my head.)

I had this comic too - can't remember if I've still got it or not.

Steve said...

I find that when I visit streets that I've not been to since I was a kid, they always seem shorter but wider than I remember. Am I the only one who has this experience?

Anonymous said...

In a Hembeck cartoon, Man-Bat hired a butler named Fred-Al.

WatchThisReview said...

World's greatest detective who solves most of his crimes without leaving home? I'm afraid you confused Sherlock Holmes with Mycroft Holmes =p Even Sherlock admits the reclusive Mycroft to be the better detective and attributes his (Sherlock's) personal success to doing the legwork on his cases.