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Monday, May 6, 2019

Golden Age Goofiness in the Batman Newspaper Strip - a Review

Batman: The Dailies 1944-1945
Chapter IX - "Their Toughest Assignment" (July 9, 1945-September 1, 1945)
Al Schwartz-Bob Kane/Charles Paris

I am happy to have these fine Kitchen Sink editions of the Golden Age Batman newspaper strips; I'd like to complete the set with the Sundays volume. Like the Bronze Age Spider-Man strips, these are little time capsules that seem all the more important given the decline of the American newspaper. As books, newspapers, and comics move slowly toward all-digital, it makes one wonder if the newspaper strips will do likewise.

I chose today's review material on the strength of one image - a beautiful young lady shown in the August 17-18 strips. A quick leafing through showed there was no known bad guy; however - if you want to see my review of a Joker strip from this era, please click here. The story we're going to examine ran for almost 50 weekdays - 50 strips! If you figure each day was 3-4 panels of story and art, this would approximate the length of a Golden Age feature (24 pages give or take). But as I remarked in the Spidey review a few months ago, the newspaper format does require a fair amount of recapping on a daily basis. Often the first panel at least contains dialogue hearkening to the previous day's doings. The coordination to tell a serialized story is impressive.

How about if we inspect a brief synopsis of this yarn, with a 100-Word Review?
Answering a Bat Signal from Commissioner Gordon, the Dynamic Duo bound into police headquarters. But Gordon says there is no crime, no bad guy on the loose… yet he has a case no one in Gotham can solve. In the midst of a housing shortage, a major benefactor of the Police Emergency Fund has called in a favor: find his niece an apartment. Our heroes hit the streets as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, with Alfred assisting, too. Failing, the boys shift gears and see what their alter egos can drum up. The entire strip is farcical, and often played for laughs - never moreso than in the concluding panel!

I read this once to see if it was review-worthy (it is). The second reading, ahead of this writing, was just as good. Speaking of...

The Good: Bob Kane takes a lot of heat - justifiably so - for hogging a whole bunch of attention and accolades for his Batman career. Kane was often ghost-written and ghost-penciled, and his name remained on the strip for literally decades with no other writers or artists receiving credit. Thank goodness for comic book historians who have shined the light on Bob Finger and Sheldon Moldoff, among many others. So while that's obviously a negative sentiment, I do want to heap some praise on Kane's work in this story. Man, it's solid. Charles Paris offers some wonderful inking throughout, but Kane's figure work, pacing, etc. are top shelf. I really had a ton of fun just looking at the pictures during both of my readings. I especially liked how chunky the Batmobile was drawn. So fun. Weird, though, to see our heroes drive it out of a garage door instead of the more familiar Batcave.

I said near the top that there was no bad buy in the story. Actually, there were quite a few, but no headliner any of us would recognize. All the baddies were foils for the plot; Kane did a wonderful job of imbuing them with caricatured appearances that would do Chester Gould proud. The action was plentiful - even for a story about apartment hunting! The damsel in distress actually caused a bit of the distress, so that was a nifty turn of events.

Overall, scribe Al Schwartz was solid in the dialogue department, seemingly having everyone's voice as we'd expect. I'm not familiar with Schwartz; perhaps I should be. Schwartz splits the writing with Jack Schiff in this particular volume.

The Bad: Child endangerment. Seriously - Robin lets himself get pistol-whipped so Batman can pull off the key event in the ending plot of the tale. Cracked right across the noggin. And Batman's like "Attaboy!" C'mon...

Alfred had some odd speech patterns. I tried to hear his voice a few different ways in my head, but remain unclear what accent Schwartz was attempting to play. I did enjoy, however, that Alfred was involved in the plot. He showed his ingenuity and contributed some key ideas.

As with any story from the Golden Age, there can be some story elements or images that give one pause. Our heroes attempt to obtain an apartment from a couple rumored to be divorcing. In the pages immediately succeeding page 136 (above), the Dynamic Duo come upon a scene where the wife has a gun to her head while her husband watches. It's played for light-heartedness, but let's face it - these days suicide and domestic squabbling are no laughing matter.  

The Gotham City PD qualifies as the worst department in the country. Those guys solve cases like Imperial Stormtroopers hit rebels - just about never!

The Ugly: Nothing to see here!

If you've not tried these strips, or any of the plethora of newspaper strips in reprinted collections, I'd urge you to take the leap. They are wonderful little pieces of history that commemorate both newspapers and the comic subjects of bygone eras. Lots of fun!


  1. Looks like a fun volume, Doug; nice review. Once again you present something I've never seen before (true, I've never seen a Batman daily strip before). The art is sharp; that somewhat 'cartoonish' style holds great appeal. Indeed, would that more artists worked in such a manner today; rather than so many aping the overly-rendered, crowded style so commonly seen.

    And the story- love that element of humor. It doesn't take itself so seriously; again a trait that could be more frequently adopted today...

  2. Man, it would have been awesome if the Batman TV show back in the '60s had an episode with the Dynamic Duo and Alfred apartment hunting.


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