For this weekend’s light-hearted, escapist superhero post, Balladeer’s Blog will look at the first twelve months of Batman stories.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #27 (May 1939)
Title: The Case of the Chemical Syndicate
Villains: Alfred Stryker and his thugs
NOTE: This was the very first appearance of Batman.
Synopsis: Wealthy Bruce Wayne is relaxing with Commissioner Gordon at the latter’s home. Gordon discusses with Bruce the reported sightings of a figure called the Batman. Bruce pretends to be as puzzled as the commissioner is.
A phone call summons Gordon to the Lambert Mansion, where the son of the chemical company tycoon is being held on suspicion of murdering his father. The commissioner invites Bruce to tag along (?) and he does so.
The Lambert son (no first name is ever given for him and his father) insists he’s innocent and that his father was receiving threats from a criminal syndicate muscling in on the family’s firm, Apex Chemical Corporation. The dead man’s partner Steve Crane starts getting threats now and wants police protection.
Bruce Wayne secretly decides to give Crane extra protection as Batman. That night, our hero clashes with multiple hired killers, tossing one of them off the roof of a building during their fight. Batman also has to evade the police, who want the vigilante arrested.
In the end, Batman overcomes all obstacles, proves the innocence of Lambert’s son and exposes his father’s business partner Alfred Stryker and his goons as the parties behind it all. Stryker attacks Batman, who knocks him into a vat of acid, killing him. His murder-lust sated for the night (I’m KIDDING!), our hero then goes home to Wayne Manor.
NOTE: There was no Batmobile at first, so the caped crusader drove around in an ordinary red sedan for these first few adventures.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #28 (June 1939)
Title: Frenchy Blake’s Jewel Gang
Villains: The Frenchy Blake Gang
Synopsis: When the police are baffled by a string of daring jewel thefts, Batman takes to the nighttime streets in search of clues. From an informant called Gimpy he learns that the Frenchy Blake Gang is behind the crime wave and also learns where they plan to strike next.
Batman stakes out that targeted mansion and outfights the two gang members that Frenchy sent to commit the jewel robbery. The caped crusader knocks one of the two off the roof to their death.
The following night, Batman clashes with the other three members of Frenchy’s gang and defeats them. After calling the police about where they can pick up those three robbers, Batman goes to Frenchy Blake’s apartment and threatens to drop him out of a window to his death unless he writes and signs a confession about his gang’s crimes. The panicked gang boss complies.
Next, Batman uses his red sedan to drop Frenchy off in front of police headquarters along with his confession and a note for Commissioner Gordon saying that corralling the gang was a gift for the department.
NOTE: This issue marked the first appearance of the Batrope.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #29 (July 1939)
Title: Batman Meets Doctor Death
Villain: Dr. Death
Synopsis: Mad scientist and supervillain Dr. Death has perfected a fast-killing chemical powder. He plans to force wealthy people to pay him protection money to NOT kill them with it.
Dr. Death sees Batman as his biggest potential obstacle and decides to launch a preemptive strike against the superhero. He plants a classified ad in the newspapers luring Batman into a trap.
At the site of the trap the villain has his muscular henchman Jabah and two hirelings ambush Batman. Our hero defeats the two gunmen but not Jabah, who shoots at Batman, wounding his arm. The caped crusader uses tear-gas from his utility belt to provide cover for his escape.
Batman gets his bullet wound treated and the next day stops Jabah from killing a tycoon who refuses to pay Dr. Death protection money. Our hero trails the fleeing Jabah back to Dr. Death’s hideout and breaks in.
After choking Jabah to death with his Batrope, Batman corners Dr. Death in his laboratory. The doctor hurls beaker after beaker of deadly chemicals at the hero, who dodges them all.
The villain’s chemicals start a fire and, as Batman gets himself to safety, Dr. Death stands laughing insanely amid the flames, presumably burning to death.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #30 (August 1939)
Title: The Return of Doctor Death
Villain: Dr. Death
NOTE: Dr. Death becomes Batman’s very first repeat villain.
Synopsis: This story picks up a week after the previous tale. We learn that Dr. Death did not die in the fire after all, but has survived with facial burns concealed by his mask. The villain resumed his extortion scheme against the wealthy.
Bruce Wayne reads a newspaper report about a tycoon who was found dead with his body turned purple. Bruce deduces that this sounds like the effects of Dr. Death’s chemical powder and realizes the doctor is still alive.
Our hero learns from the dead tycoon’s widow that he was, indeed, being threatened by Dr. Death. The villain has a new muscular henchman this time – a Russian named Mikhail. The next time Mikhail shows up to collect on his boss’s extortion demands, Batman is waiting.
After a furious fight, Mikhail escapes, not realizing our hero let him do that so he can follow him to Dr. Death’s hideout. After noting that hideout’s location – in a pawn shop – Batman follows the Russian to his home, where our “hero” attacks him and kills him by breaking his neck.
Returning to the pawn shop lair, Batman once again confronts Dr. Death. This time the costumed hero defeats him and leaves him tied up for the police, whom he tips off to come and get the villain.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #31 (September 1939)
Title: Batman vs the Vampire Part One
Villain: The Monk
NOTE: As the title gives away, the Monk turns out to be a vampire. This story is also the very first two-part Batman story. The Batplane and the Batarang make their first appearances in this issue as well. Batman’s home city is finally referred to by name – New York City. (It will change to Gotham City down the road.)
Synopsis: Batman intervenes when a man is being attacked by a violent woman. Our hero is shocked to see that the attacker is Bruce Wayne’s fiancee – Julie Madison. She does not seem to be herself. (From the title we readers know what’s going on.)
The next day Bruce takes Julie to her doctor – who is also under the vampire’s influence – and the MD recommends a solo cruise for Julie to France and then Hungary. Bruce agrees, reluctantly, but follows Julie’s cruise ship the London Lady across the Atlantic in his Batplane/ Batgyro.
As Batman he leaves the plane on autopilot and lowers himself on a rope ladder to check on Julie at night. The Monk comes to Julie’s room and Batman attacks him. The Monk is getting the upper hand and Batman is forced to throw his Batarang at the vampire to escape back up the rope ladder to his aircraft.
After the ship arrives in Paris, our hero scours the city looking for Julie Madison. At last he finds her, staying with the Monk. Batman battles the villain plus his pet gorilla. When the Monk flies off to Hungary he orders Julie to drive there in her car and meet him at his castle. Batman catches up with his confused fiancee and has her in the Batplane while he flies on toward Hungary to confront the Monk.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #32 (October 1939)
Title: Batman vs the Vampire Part Two
Villains: The Monk and Dala Vadim
Synopsis: Batman and Julie Madison arrive in Hungary, where the Monk’s female vampire associate Dala Vadim tries to abduct Julie but has to flee. Batman catches her and she claims that she’ll help him against the Monk – real name Niccolai Tepes – because she wants him destroyed, too.
The pair fly to the Monk’s castle, where our hero realizes that Dala has led him into the villain’s trap. Batman is imprisoned, while the Monk summons the bitten Julie and orders her to come to his castle.
Much later Julie arrives, and the Monk offers to eventually make her one of the undead like him and Dala. Meanwhile, Tepes has summoned wolves to feed on the imprisoned Batman. Our hero uses knockout gas from his utility belt to defeat the wolves and then at last escapes the pit.
The Monk and Dala have retired to their coffins since daylight is approaching. Batman finds Julie alive but weak in a bed. He melts down a silver decoration into silver bullets (?) and uses his pistol to shoot the Monk and Dala to death instead of using stakes.
Batman and Julie fly off in the Batplane, leaving the castle completely deserted.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #33 (November 1939)
Title: The Dirigible of Doom
Villains: The Scarlet Horde
NOTE: This issue opens up with a 2-page prologue titled The Batman and How He Came to Be. For the very first time it was revealed how Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in front of him and how he came to devote his life and his monetary inheritance to fighting crime as Batman.
Synopsis: Bruce Wayne is walking along in what is still being referred to as New York City when a large red dirigible attacks the city with ray-blasts that kill untold numbers of people and destroy many buildings. Far from his home, where his Batman costume and weaponry are located, he does what he can to help bystanders.
After the dirigible – a war vessel being used by the red-uniformed members of a group called the Scarlet Horde – departs, Bruce pledges an enormous amount of money to disaster relief, then races to Wayne Manor.
Once there, he enters a room behind a wall in his mansion. That room has Bruce’s Batman gear. (The Batcave concept had not yet been introduced.) The room also houses Batman’s extensive files on criminals and our hero soon determines that the leader of this Scarlet Horde must be Professor Carl Kruger.
Kruger, who dreamed of world conquest, recently escaped from an insane asylum (Arkham Asylum had not been come up with yet.) and had devised a ray-weapon like the kind the red dirigible was shooting. Batman manages to locate the hangar where Kruger has his dirigible hidden away.
Our hero breaks into the Scarlet Horde’s headquarters, fights some of the 2,000-strong Scarlet Horde and Kruger himself. Batman tries to destroy the dirigible and its ray-weaponry but is instead lucky to escape with his life.
Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce devises a chemical treatment to make his Batplane immune to the death ray’s effects. The next day he goes forth in that plane when the Scarlet Horde once again attack New York City in their dirigible.
The chemical treatment keeps up his plane’s invulnerability to the ray blasts and Batman sets the Batplane on a collision course with the dirigible before bailing out with a parachute. The Batplane AND the dirigible blow up, Kruger dies in battle with Batman, and the authorities round up all of the Scarlet Horde members who did not blow up in the dirigible.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #34 (December 1939)
Title: Peril in Paris
Villain: Duc D’Orterre
Synopsis: Batman flies a new Batplane to France, where I guess he stores it in one of Bruce Wayne’s hangars or something. We aren’t told. As Bruce Wayne he travels around Paris, but becomes Batman again when he needs to help Karel Maire and her brother Charles. The two are being targeted by the villainous Duc d’Orterre.
D’Orterre (at right) runs several of Paris’ street gangs and is trying to steal the inherited wealth of Karel and Charles. So far the Duc has attempted to romance Karel but she rejected him.
As a threat d’Orterrre abducted Charles to his lair in the catacombs beneath Paris and used one of his inventions which slices off people’s faces whole with a beam. Charles is now disfigured for life, and the Duc threatens worse against the siblings if they don’t turn all their wealth over to him.
That night Batman searches the catacombs for d’Orterre’s lair. He finds and confronts the villain’s street gang but is defeated when the Duc shows up and blasts him unconscious with energy beams from his walking stick.
The Duc d’Orterre then has our hero bound to a spinning wheel deathtrap instead of killing him when he was out cold and helpless. Batman escapes the trap but d’Orterre springs another one and traps the caped crusader in a dungeon filled with very large flowers on which the Duc has grafted all the faces of the victims he used his laser on.
With Batman imprisoned, d’Orterre has his street gang abduct Karel and Charles from their hotel and bring them to his lair. The villain has Charles strapped to the spinning wheel and leaves for his estate in Champagne with Karel as his captive.
Batman escapes the dungeon and frees Charles. The pair go to the Batplane and fly toward Champagne to make up for d’Orterre’s head start. They overtake him and the captive Karel outside Champagne.
Our costumed hero and Charles take on the Duc, free Karel and watch as d’Orterre’s out of control vehicle goes over a cliff, killing the villain.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #35 (January 1940)
Title: The Case of the Ruby Idol
Villain: Sin Fang
NOTE: This issue marks the very first appearance of the Batmobile.
Synopsis: Batman helps Commissioner Gordon when the police receive a complaint from a businessman named Weldon. He says a business rival named Sheldon Lenox sold him a ruby idol of the Hindu god of destruction, and ever since then Weldon has been getting death threats from Thuggee cultists.
Batman investigates, and the trail leads him to Chinatown and a crime lord named Sin Fang. In Fu Manchu style, Sin Fang commands not just Chinese gangsters but the criminals of other eastern races, like the Thuggee cult.
While clashing with Sin Fang and his men, our hero exposes Sin Fang as a disguised Sheldon Lenox (He killed the real Sin Fang long ago and took his place). Amid the battle, Batman kills a Chinese attacker with his own sword and knocks Sheldon/ Sin Fang to his death from a high window.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #36 (February 1940)
Title: Batman Meets Professor Hugo Strange
Villain: Hugo Strange
NOTE: Hugo Strange was a regular part of Batman’s Rogues Gallery of foes into the 1980s at least.
Synopsis: Batman, out on patrol, sees a man mortally wounded in a drive-by shooting. He rushes to the side of the dying man, who turns out to be federal agent John Davis. His dying words are “fog” and “strange.”
Our hero investigates and learns that the man was referring to Professor Hugo Strange, a recent escapee from the state prison. Batman refers to Strange as “The most dangerous man in the world! Scientist, philosopher and a criminal genius… little is known of him, yet this man is undoubtedly the greatest organizer of crime in the world.”
The escaped professor has had his men abduct scientist Henry Jenkins and forced him to make a fog-producing machine. Hugo’s men proceed to launch a crimewave and use the fog machine to escape police pursuit after each caper.
Batman locates Strange’s hideout and takes on him and his men. Our hero wins out, captures Hugo Strange and frees Henry Jenkins. Back behind bars, Professor Strange vows revenge on Batman.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #37 (March 1940)
Title: The Screaming House
Villain: Count Grutt
Synopsis: We join Batman on another night patrol. When he hears screams emerging from an old, abandoned house he checks it out. He sees a man named Joey being tortured by a gang of thugs. Batman takes on the thugs and frees Joey, who double-crosses our hero by killing all their opponents.
The caped crusader follows Joey to the waterfront lair of a monocle wearing German spy named Count Grutt. It turns out Joey is a federal agent who has learned that Count Grutt and his spy ring plan on exploding a ship due to arrive soon.
Joey gets killed, Batman battles and corrals the spy ring, and Count Grutt dies in battle with our hero.
DETECTIVE COMICS Vol 1 #38 (April 1940)
Title: Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder
Villain: Boss Anthony Zucco
NOTE: The first appearance and origin story for Robin.
Synopsis: The Haly Circus is performing in New York City (which won’t become Gotham City until Batman #4 in December of 1940). Crime boss Anthony Zucco has his men try to extort protection money from the owner Mr. Haly but he refuses to pay.
The next night the Haly Circus is performing for a large audience, including Bruce Wayne. The two senior Flying Graysons are killed by Boss Zucco’s men, leaving their son Dick orphaned. Dick overhears Boss Zucco making it clear to Mr. Haly that he had the Graysons killed and more deaths will follow if he doesn’t pay up.
Dick wants revenge on Zucco but Bruce Wayne talks him into waiting until he has received sufficient training to do the deed. Bruce takes Dick on as his “ward” and not only confides in him that he is Batman, but also tells him about his own parents. After a period of training, Dick dons his Robin costume and joins Batman in his investigation of Boss Zucco.
Batman and Robin track down Zucco and some of his goons to a skyscraper under construction. The construction company won’t pay them extortion money so they are there to sabotage it.
Batman and Robin battle the criminals on the girders high above the street, with Robin even knocking two of Zucco’s thugs to their deaths. Boss Zucco is brought in and with the evidence our heroes have compiled against him, he is sent to prison.
BATMAN Vol 1 #1 (Spring 1940)
NOTE: In addition to his appearances in Detective Comics, Batman has proven so popular that he will ALSO appear in multiple stories in each issue of Batman from this point on.
Story One Title: The Joker
Villain: The Joker
NOTE: Obviously, this is the very first appearance of this villain, squeezing in just barely within the first 12 months of Batman stories.
Synopsis: The story starts out with the Joker already in action. He hijacks radio broadcasts to announce he will steal the Claridge Diamond and murder its owner Henry Claridge at Midnight. Despite Commissioner Gordon’s cordon of police around Henry’s mansion he succeeds, taking the diamond and leaving Claridge dead from his Joker Venom which twists its victims faces into a Joker Face.
Next, the Joker hijacks radio broadcasts to announce that he will kill Jay Wilde and steal his Ronkers Ruby. Again, the villain succeeds despite a heavy police presence trying to protect him. Before long, crime boss Brute Nelson is angry that the Joker keeps pulling these jobs in his territory and doesn’t even pay him tribute.
Brute puts word on the street that he considers the Joker a coward. Batman gets wind of this and feels that he and Robin might be able to catch the Joker if he tries to kill Brute Nelson for his insult.
Our heroes are, indeed, there as the Joker shows up to kill the crime boss. The villain kills Nelson and flees, followed by Batman. The two battle but the Joker knocks the costumed hero off a bridge and escapes while Batman saves himself.
Next, the Joker hijacks radio waves to announce that he will kill Judge Drake. He succeeds, slipping in and out with no police catching him. Robin is on stakeout and notices the Joker leave. He follows him to his abandoned house hideout, only to get captured by the villain.
Robin left a chemical trail for Batman to follow, and he breaks into the house to free Robin and take on the Joker again. After their battle, the villain escapes. Robin tells Batman that the Joker bragged that he would steal the Cleopatra Necklace from Otto Drexel that night.
Batman and Robin catch Joker red-handed at Drexel’s place. They defeat him and the villain winds up in the State Prison.
Story Two Title: The Giants of Hugo Strange
Villain: Hugo Strange
NOTE: Robin does not appear in this story.
Synopsis: This second story in Batman #1 shows Hugo Strange escaping from an insane asylum that is still not yet being called Arkham Asylum. Hugo creates a formula which turns his underlings into 10-foot-tall monsters who act at his command.
When Batman tries to stop their rampage throughout New York City, he winds up captured and taken to Hugo Strange’s hideout. After the villain injects our hero with the growth serum, Batman escapes and manages to create a serum to cure himself. Returning to his foe’s lair he battles Hugo, who falls out a window into the ocean.
Next, Batman takes to the air in the Batplane and attacks the rampaging giants. Believe it or not he uses the plane’s machine guns to mercilessly mow down the giants. With one of the giants he uses his Batrope to strangle it to death.
Batman kills the last giant by gassing it when it is atop a skyscraper, causing it to fall to its death. His homicidal spree over, he heads for home.
Story Three Title: The Cat
Villain: The Cat
NOTE: In this, her first appearance, Catwoman went by the nom de guerre the Cat.
Synopsis: Elderly socialite Mrs. Travers goes on a cruise ship wearing an emerald necklace worth $500,000 – or $9,957,214 here in 2022. Batman has Robin working undercover as a steward on board.
Before too long, Robin discovers that Mrs. Travers’ nephew Denny is working with a jewel thief calling herself the Cat to steal the emerald necklace. Even so, he is too late to prevent the theft, and Mrs. Travers is horrified to lose her prized possession.
A handful of crooks in a speedboat board the cruise ship to nab the necklace but are disgusted to learn that it’s already been stolen. They proceed to rob all the passengers of their valuables, before Batman and Robin attack and defeat the criminals.
Now that Batman is on the scene, he realizes that a seemingly elderly passenger calling herself Mrs. Peggs is really the Cat in disguise, with the emerald necklace hidden underneath a phony bandage she’s wearing.
Denny attacks our hero, who knocks him out. The Cat tries to persuade Batman to join forces with her so they can become the King and Queen of Crime. He is able to resist the offer, but is so infatuated that he lets the Cat escape by jumping overboard to swim away.
Story Four Title: The Joker Returns
Villain: The Joker
Synopsis: In this fourth and final story in Batman #1 the Joker escapes imprisonment. He holes up in a hideout located underneath a cemetery. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson hear about the villain’s escape and brace themselves for what he may do next.
Soon, the Joker murders Chief of Police Chalmers after boasting about it in advance. Over the next few days the villain steals a valuable painting and a priceless gem, leaving the owner of the latter dead with a Joker face.
Next, the Joker boasts that he will succeed in stealing the Cleopatra Necklace, to make up for the way Batman and Robin caught him during his previous attempt. The necklace is now being held in a museum and that night the Joker breaks in, poisons some guards and tries to make off with the Cleopatra Necklace.
Batman appears and the two fight it out. The Joker defeats our hero and flees as the police arrive on the scene. Batman successfully stopped the villain from escaping with the necklace. The next day, a reform politician named Edgar Martin calls for the Joker to be brought in. In return the villain kills him despite the police guarding him.
The following day, Bruce Wayne suggests to Commissioner Gordon a trap for the Joker involving the Fire Ruby. The Joker tries to steal the hyped jewel and Batman & Robin spring their trap. A lengthy fight breaks out, with Joker nearly killing Robin. Cornered, the villain fakes his own death and escapes before the Dynamic Duo realize they’ve been suckered.
*** And that wraps up the 12-month period from Batman’s debut in May 1939 to April 1940.
FOR MY LOOK AT THE ICONIC SUPERHERO THE SPIRIT AND HIS GREATEST FOES CLICK HERE.
THE CLOCK: THE PRE-BATMAN SUPERHERO AND HIS 1936-1939 ADVENTURES. CLICK HERE.