Detective Comics #30
1939, August, Golden Age
Cover Price: 10 cents
Untitled Story (Return of Doctor Death)
Characters: Batman, Bruce Wayne, Doctor Death, Mikhail. I love that Bruce actually does stuff as Bruce in so many of these.
As you’ll recall, last issue we found out that the ‘Death’ in Doctor Death’s name doesn’t actually refer to him killing anyone, but rather to the fact that, um, he was going to die. Or something like that. It sounded better in my head.
Anyway, so we get this:
Oh lord, where do I begin? Well, okay, ‘sworn enemy’? Really? I’m double-checking this, just fyi. Yeah, nobody ever swore anything. Admittedly, this far far before ‘decompressed storytelling’ so it could’ve happened between panels or something, but c’mon! Batsy only fought with the guy ONCE. Well, okay, one issue, multiple times with his henchmen, but only ONCE with Doctor Death. Who doesn’t deserve his alias, so I’m going to use his real name.
So the Batman’s ‘sworn enemy’ who he didn’t even try to keep from burning to death, even to take him to justice or anything. But as we all know, if you don’t see the corpse, they’re not dead. Even Bruce has a hunch about it! And this is before that trope had become completely set in stone!
And the cute, yet completely gratuitous, French maid doesn’t bother to ask for any sort of identification or anything. Because we don’t need those! This is America, dammit!
And thus Bruce’s hunch is confirmed, completely ignoring the fact that, oh, the note could’ve been sent more than a week ago, that someone could be sending them out for Hellfern, or a million other reasons. But sure, okay, Hellfern’s alive. I can go with that.
Right, so the widow has no money because they lost it in the (Great) Depression, but her dead husband’s hobby was collecting diamonds. So how do you not have money, Granny? I mean is this some historic practice I just don’t understand? I realize you can’t spend them like cash, but really.
Once again we get to see Bruce changing into Batman right in front of a window. *sigh* I won’t go on about it. Oh! But he has gloves now! Blue ones! Go Brucey! Yay!
… I love his car.
See, that’s the way to do it. Nobody’s going to look at that car twice, except for in an admiring way. There’s no need for bat-details all over it. Don’t draw attention to your means of getting away. That’s smart.
OK, so we see a bandaged figure and another Indi- wait, his name is Mikhail? That’s Russian. *goes back and checks* Yes, Jabah was said to be Indian. Well, Hellfern is an equal opportunity employer. Good for him.
Right, so Batman has broken into Jones’ house and opened the safe where the diamonds are when Mikhail shows up. Batman hides behind a curtain and for some reason Mikhail isn’t at all suspicious that the safe is open. At all. Oh, Mikhail.
Which is right when Mrs. Jones walks in. Poor old lady. Somehow Batman tackles him from behind and then punches him in the jaw out the window. I’m really not sure how that worked. At all. And then he bags up the diamonds and tosses them out the window to the unconscious Mikhail. So Batman can follow him. … oookay. And Mrs. Jones doesn’t protest because she’s fainted. Understandable. Again, Poor old lady.
We get another one of those pretty ‘Batman being awesome’ panels. Mikhail comes to. Batman follows him, in his car, right behind him. … okay, I’ll just let that one go. Maybe he’s not right behind him. Maybe the car in front of Batman is some other car and Mikhail’s car just isn’t shown. I dunno. But for the sake of my sanity I’ll let that one go.
Batman watches Mikhail go into the pawn shop and come out sans diamonds and then follows him some more to his current place of residence. Somehow Batman finds the correct apartment, entering from the skylight for no logical reason (Dude, it’s an apartment and you entered through the door anyway? What was the point? Getting extra exercise? What?) He gasses poor Mikhail, rifles through his stuff, Mikhail wakes up and tries to shoot him and Batman jumps out the window. Where Batman’s batrope was waiting. Just coincidentally. No, seriously. Batman climbs the rope to the roof, right? And apparently leaves the rope there, just in case. Okay, that makes sense. But we don’t know where Mikhail’s apartment is in relationship to where Batman climbed up. And as far as I can tell, neither did Batman. So there was something like a 1 in 4 chance that the rope would be in front of the window. (I’m saying 1 in 4 because we saw that there was room to one side of the apartment building, which makes it reasonable to assume that there is to the other side as well. I think.)
Anyway, Batman jumps out the window, catches his rope, swings back, and breaks Mikhail’s neck. Seriously, I’ll put up the panels.
I feel required to point out that Batman doesn’t actually have proof yet that Hellfern is alive. Not really.
There’s some more pretty panels with a nicely rendered purple sky and Batman breaks into Ivan Herd’s Pawn shop where the proprietor is playing with the Jones’ diamonds. And Ivan freaks out. Admittedly having a man dressed like a bat swing through a window into your shop, where you fence stolen goods, and you’re at that very moment handling some of those stolen goods, would give you a good reason to freak out, but this seems a bit excessively so. And it’s because…
Batman ties up Hellfern, leaves him and the diamonds for the cops he called earlier, and as far as I know, that’s the last we hear about Doctor ‘so-called’ Death.
The folks over at Detective Comments have deeper analysis of the story, as well as pointing out that Mr. Kane is drawing Batman’s ears longer. I admit, I tend to go with the flow of the story and not question too deeply as long as I’m having fun.
Credits: Bob Kane (pencils & inks) (writer: Gardner F. Fox, background pencils & lettering: Sheldon Moldoff) (complete credits once again thanks to the Grand Comics Database)
(Yes, you giant comic fans, Doctor Death does come back later. I haven’t read those issues yet and I may not ever. [There is very little modern stuff I like.])