By Will Barber Taylor
Following on from the previous edition, in which we looked at an early battle between the Caped Crusader and a vampiric werewolf Monk from Hungary, we go back to the Bat Man’s very first appearance in which he battles against vile crime bosses and starts a legend that has lasted for 80 years. (Detective Comics 27)
Batman is one of comic’s most iconic figures. His influence can be seen throughout not just the comic industry but pop culture in general. Throughout his eighty-year history he has gone from a pulp figure to a camp crime fighter to a Dark Knight. Yet one thing has remained since the very beginning of his history and has featured in every single iteration. No, not Commissioner Gordon (though he is in this as well) – it is the fact Batman is a detective. And this is no more apparent than in his debut story, The Case of the Chemical Syndicate.
The comic begins with Bruce Wayne talking to his good friend Commissioner Gordon when Gordon receives a phone call. There’s been a murder of a man called Lambert and his son is suspected of the crime. Naturally, because this is the 1930s, Gordon invites Wayne along to see the crime scene. It soon becomes apparent though Lambert’s son is innocent and that someone has been targeting Lambert’s business contacts in an effort to take control of their company. Before the dastardly mastermind, one of Lambert’s former business partner’s Alfred Stryker can complete his viscous intentions “The Bat-Man” arrives to defeat him. Commissioner Gordon later tells his friend Bruce Wayne about the adventure. Wayne is credulous and uninterested until he returns home and we see that Bruce Wayne is in fact “The Bat-Man!”
The Case of the Chemical Syndicate is a typical pulp story, oozing with dirty money, police detectives in wide brimmed hats and a masked hero that leaps in to save the day. It isn’t a bad story – far from it, for its time it is entirely entertaining. However, if it had not been the first appearance of Batman then this comic would likely have been long forgotten. Bill Finger’s story is interesting enough, but it will hardly go down as one of the greatest plots of all time.
The artwork is pretty good with Bob Kane’s illustrious Batman looking suitably menacing from the very first appearance and Kane manages to make the rest of the goons look fairly goon like. Kane’s images are perhaps more memorable than the story itself.
Overall, The Case of the Chemical Syndicate is a fun little story which introduces comic books greatest crime fighter in a fitting, but perhaps underwhelming way given his later success. The legend of the masked manhunter has lived on, however, and will be sure to continue for another eighty years yet.
The Comic Column will continue next week with the first review in our new series, “The Startling Stories of Superman”.