Friday, April 05, 2013

Rocky Grimes Week #6: Robin Rides a Rainbow

So, at the fabulous House of Jewels exhibit, Rocky Grimes prepares to use a bloodstone bullet to assassinate former gangmate Brenner, the gemcutter, who’s on stage preparing to cleave the 700 carat Onker diamond.  

It’s all so...DRAMATIC.

 But, before any shots can be fired, Robin rides the rainbow right into Rocky’s face.

First the silk, now the rainbow. Are you trying to tell us something, Robin?

But Rocky is never at a loss for a witty, villainous rejoinder!  I hope.

“I”ll bust your head for you, brat?”  Sigh.  

Oh, Rocky, you PLOT like a villain, but you smack-talk like a YUTZ.  Readers don’t care whether your elaborate, thematic schemes fail (or would be kind of stupid and unproductive even if they did succeed), just as long as you use death-traps and pseudo-high-brow villainous bloviation.  I mean, that’s the whole lesson of every Victor Von Doom story, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, let’s observe the real reason the Gotham City Police Department needs Batman:


Among cynical modern readers, there’s a long tradition of criticizing the Gotham City police for being ineffective and needing Batman’s help to stop jaywalkers and double-parkers.  The truth is, the Gotham City police would be WAY more effective without Batman, because they SHOOT FIRST AND DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO ASK QUESTIONS LATER. These guys are armed and authorized to kill in a town where every corner hides a poisonous jack-in-the-box, exploding puzzle piece, or buzzsaw umbrella.  So they INVENTED zero tolerance, baby.  Their first, and fairly natural, reaction is to mow down anything not in uniform, as follows:

  1. shoot it, 
  2. shoot it dead, then 
  3. shoot anyone who SAW you shoot it dead.  

Batman’s not helping the police stop crime; he’s keeping them from killing anyone within a 50 foot radius of crime.    Honestly, once you get that, Batman’s entire history with the GCPD and the city falls nicely into place.

So Batman tackles Rocky mano a mano.

Okay, there is NO WAY this fight is ending without that Taj Mahal shoved up someone’s ass or impaled through their sternum.

Rocky counters by dropping a fruitbowl of gems on Batman's head. Yes, a fruitbowl of gems. Welcome to Richville, kids.

Fruit bowls full of giant, novelty-shaped gems.  Except for all the murder, Gotham City is the best city to live in the entire history of the world.  Sure, at any moment, you might get killed by a psychotic villain wielding a giant man-eating clam.  But, by the same token, at any moment, some of Gotham’s absurd superfluence of wealth might just fall at your feet for the taking.

It must be SO much fun to live in Gotham City.  What can a regular citizen do with an apple-sized ruby, you ask? FENCE IT.  You can fence anything in Gotham City, remember. 

See?  Gotham’s a high-risk, high pay-off proposition.  And you have to love the typical GCPD response:


Meanwhile, Rocky, pursued by the Dynamic Duo, makes it to his rock-quarry hideout, because in Gotham there are always rock quarries close to fabulous jewel exhibits.  Also, empty warehouses, spooky old mansions, and abandoned amusement parks. Gotham City is the anti-Central City; in Gotham City everything is close to everything else.

At the quarry, B&R do Rocky the enormous favor of throwing themselves head-first at top speed in a big slab of stone, which is both thematic and convenient.  

"What th--  he blocked the door?! How... rude!  
*eyeroll into unconsciousness*  

WIth truly supervillainous improvisation, Rocky returns the favor by cobbling together not one but two highly escapable stone-based death-traps.  

Now, to the eyes of a modern Batman reader, there are about 37 ways Batman and Robin, who are still wearing their utility belts, can get out of these traps.  But ... that’s just NOT how the Golden Age works, people. Those are NOT the rules.  As you will see tomorrow.

Rocky Grimes Week #5: Blood from a stone

Batman's on Rocky's trail.  Following Robin's plan, he's going to search the 'card files' at Police HQ to determine what criminal past the victims--and the murderer--have in common.

It's a pre-internet, pre-computer thing.  Detective work used to be really hard.  Nowadays you just shine a black light at stuff and let the DNA-decoder do the rest.

But...Batman's move has been anticipated!

 NOTHING escapes Batman's notice.

Police HQ: Least Safe Place in Gotham City.  No wonder there's a Bat-signal on the roof.

Damn. Rocky's got (if you'll pardon the expression) STONES. He walked into Police HQ with a machine gun and burned up the little files cards onto which Gordon makes Bonnie write down invasive trivia on everyone who's ever jaywalked (and ever civil servant, but that's another story).

Then Batman, I kid you not, spends, like, 97 panels on Mr. Wizarding the cards back into readability.   While YELLING ABOUT IT.  

I think the yelling is just SO GORDON CAN HEAR. 
Or to keep Robin, who needs to prop up his head to keep from nodding off, awake. 

Now we wait and allow the red spray to p'rmeate the chrdzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZZ.

No, really, there's a page and half of this.  Somehow it puts the rise of Stan Lee into context, because as annoying as he was (is), he didn't put you to sleep.

Anyway, several science courses later, they figure out that all the victims were part of the Rocky Grimes gang and that he's out for revenge.  

A diamond cutter?  A concession stand in a petrified forest? What are the odds?!

Golden Age Jim Gordon may be a fat old sissy, but he is a THOROUGH and RELENTLESS fat old sissy.  Once you've gotten your first parking ticket he will keep tabs on every detail of your life for as long as you frickin' live.  Nowadays, we'd just use Facebook, where we'd know not only when you started working that concession stand in the petrified forest, but what that paella you ate late night looked like sitting on the plate in front of you.

Meanwhile, Rocky, thinking himself safe, takes the next logical step in his scheme, and has a bullet made out of heliotrope.  Yes, really.  Revenge is a very involved hobby.

His plan is to show up at the "House of Jewels Exhibit" and shoot Brenner the diamond-cutter.  On stage, while Brenner is cutting a famous diamond in front of a huge audience (because watching people cut diamonds is a thing in Gotham).  Rather than, oh, waiting until gets home.  Well, it is a very Gotham-y setting, making it clear that Gotham SWEATS WEALTH, which is why it's so full of crime.  Heck, it's a wonder ordinary citizens don't all turn to crime, given that bushels of jewels spill out onto every corner.  We'll see how Rocky's plan works out....

Chile! La alegria ya viene!

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Rocky Grimes Week #4: Rock and Eyeroll

Rocky's already killed two of his former gang members using stones inscribed with mysterious messages of revenge.  Will his stone-paved path of slaughter grind forth unhalted?  Surely not! This is the point we wait for in these stories, when Batman, fired by moral outrage at such insidious assassinations,  starts detectifying and vows that he will not rest until this madman is stopped!

Unless, of course, he has something more fun to do.

Fight crime?!  Don't be absurd, boy, I don't even have time to turn on the lights!

Yeah, because, god knows, it's not like the mayor could possibly open an orphanage without Batman's help. 

It's ugly, but it's a truth.  In the later Golden Age and the Silver Age, Batman is all about opening supermarkets and kissing babies. It's only when people start getting murdered right in front of him, or crap gets stolen from museums he's a trustee of, or his own social schedule is interrupted that he rolls his eyes and deigns to actually fight crime.

Fortunately, that's exactly what happens.

"What a strong face he has?" Huh. Doesn't sound like Mason went very straight to me.  Are you SURE you wouldn't want him after you, Mason?

Believe it or not, Batman actually saves this guy. And his hat.

And on those lonely nights, Mason remembers this moment again and again.
"You saved my life, Batman!" the dream goes, "that makes me your SLAVE."

"Damnation.  Everyone's watching.  Now I HAVE to do something about it, don't I? *eyeroll*"
That's why the white slits, by the way: to hide all the eyerolling.

Robin, being a kid, doesn't appreciate the rarefied pleasures of cornerstone laying, so he's overjoyed to have a deranged and desperate murderer to chase.

"Hot dog! Can we play catch with a tarantula after this, Batman?" 
Robin's a nice kid, but he is NOT right in the head.

Rocky leads them on a merry one-panel chase to the waterfront.  It's my personal theory that Gotham City must be shaped like Ocean City, Maryland, because it seems like no matter where you are in Gotham, the waterfront is only one panel away.

"Ugh.  This one even has a GUN.  Why don't they ever just come along quietly?  I've got a museum board meeting tonight...! *eyeroll*"

Sigh.  Rocky really needs better repartee if he's going to make it as an actual VILLAIN, not just a cracked yegg.  C'mon, Rocky, seize your potential!

Okay, that's more like it.  Rocky's smart enough to abandon the stone-fetish for a minute and lay an actual impromptu trap for the Dispassionate Duo. For a second, I was worried he was going to try to stab them with a stonefish.  Impressively, dude manages to set them on FIRE on the OCEAN.

What with the stones, and the water, and the fire, I was going to make some strained analysis of Rocky Grimes as the essential Empedoclean villain, but it just seemed like so much hot air, really.

So, Batman and Robin burn to death in the middle the ocean, killed by an unspectacular rockpile refugee. Okay, not really. They jump into the ocean and swim beyond the flames while Rocky gets away.  Their 'quarry' escapes; see, I can make rock puns, too.

"And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those nosy kids and their dog!"

Rocky is showing glimmers of true villainhood here.  Rather than just sticking his head in the sand and hoping Batman doesn't get to him, he's taken Batman's measure and is formulating a plan accordingly. You can do it, Rocky! Embrace true villainy!

And he'd better hurry, because Batman has already begun to harness his own magical powers of free association with which he'll track down Rocky.  How exactly Batman's realization that all the victims were attacked with stones (because NOTHING escapes Batman's notice) will lead to finding Rocky is completely, utterly unclear.  However, the Boy Wonder, accustomed to playing Penny to Batman's Inspector Gadget, plays along.

"Um.  Sure, Batman. That's.. really interesting.  Meanwhile, let's look for something substantial the victims actually have in common, not just the murders.  Because unless Cave Carson's gone bonkers, your observation of the obvious is nearly irrelevant."

But meanwhile Rocky has his own plan.  One so ridiculous you will never believe it. But not as ridiculous as how Batman counters it.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Rocky Grimes Week #3: Rocky's Five-Way Revenge

So with his newfound obsession, Rocky Grimes intends to revenge himself on his former gangmembers who left him as their amnesiac fall guy.

Rocky's first target is "Lefty Slade", the one who stayed in the thieving business and became 'a big-time crook'.  Now that he's insane, Rocky's plotting involves the kind of free association that Batman & Robin used to do on the 1960s show to deduce where the supercriminal would strike next.  Like a campaign speech, it makes no sense, but has a certain flow that obscures that fact if you do it fast enough.

Hm.  That’s rather stretching it a bit, isn’t it, Rocky?  What are you going to do, lure him to Pennsylvania and shoot him there?

Turns out luring this 'big time crook' to his doom is easier than you'd expect.  Rocky basically calls him up as says, "Hey, you don't know me, but go stand and wait for me under a particularly unstable stone archway until I kill, -er, I mean, CALL you."
Remember, kids; older = more evil.

Wonder who called you? Actually, the real wonder is “How in evil’s name did you survive as a criminal in Gotham for the last twenty years if you’re sap enough to bite on every anonymous tip that tells you to go wait under a stone arch?”  Some sort of god of evil has obviously been preserving this schmoe for 20 years just so Rocky can triumphantly exalt, “AH HA! IT IS I, ROCKY GRIMES, COME TO EXACT MY STONE-THEMED REVENGE UPON THEE!”

Oh.  Or Rocky won't say anything.  Rocky will just topple an archway on him so he never even know what hit him, let alone know that Rocky was responsible.  Oh, Rocky; what happened to the vainglorious guy we loved, the one who used to shout his name out loud as he shot bank guards?  It’s sad how we all lose our youthful idealism, isn’t it?  Plus, you just fell back several pegs on the "Potential Villain" cribbage board.

Still; the after-effect is pretty impressive.

THIS, in case you Philistines don't recognize it, is ART. Like, Tarot-card worthy art.  We really need a Tarot deck of people dying in Golden Age comics. Oh, yeah; the Five of Cops; the Three of Debacles; I can see it all now.

The inscribed “I FINALLY REMEMBERED” stone? Yeah, that’s first-class stuff, there!  Do they sell those on-line? I'm sure Gotham City has a store where you can buy revenge-themed inscribed items, called "Wrongs Remembered".
Once the deed is done, however, Rocky is naturally mortified and comes to his senses.

I am sure making that face hurts your eyes.  But I'll bet it feels like it's worth it at the time.

Ha! No. Just kidding.  That is not the face of a man who has come to his senses.  That's the face of man who's drunk on pure mania.  "I'll give him a touch,too ... A TOUCHSTONE! WHEEeee-NYA-HAHAHAHAHAHAGGA-URK!"
This proves quite easy to do.

True story: Golden Age comic book writers, long before there was an internet, used to write weird facts like "Basanite/touchstone: used to check metal purity" on index cards and keep them for later use in stories.  It's easy to make fun of their stuff now, but these men were dedicated to their craft.  And proud of their ability to turn any bizarre trivia item into MURDER.

And that spells FIN for 'Fin' Gonzy! Ha! Ha ha!

See? That's the kind of triumphant speech of revenge we were hoping for.  A little clunky, perhaps, but Rocky's new at the ironic revenge game.  By the way, note that Rocky's chief weapon, other than a fanatical devotion to stones, is the multiple mixed metaphor. 
ART, people. Beautiful, haunting, corpse-filled art. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Rocky Grimes Week #2: IT'S LIKE A SYMBOL!

We last left the newly de-amnesiafied Rocky Grimes with several possible life-paths to choose from: go straight, turn his old gangmembers in, become a fitness guru, or sue the city.
This being the Golden Age, he naturally chooses a different, less sensible path; a path of revenge; a path paved…


Well, yes, that's true, Rocky, but--

Okay, while I'll admit that's an odd coincidence, it's not--

Rocky, now you're just ranting--

That has nothing to do with anything, Rocky.

Holy CRAP.  Dude's gone COMPLETELY INSANE in two panels and is talking to a transquartomuralistic rock.

We need a term of art for moments like these, where a villain adopts his idiosyncrazy.  That moment where the criminal finally looks up from his life and sees the gears of the mechanisms of irony in which he is enmeshed and decides not to escape the mechanism but to use it to his advantage, to turn it against his enemies.   

When the Joker looked at himself in the mirror for the first time and realized the joke was on him—and that he needed to share the joke with others.  

When Jervis Tetch decides “never” to let Alice alone and becomes the Mad Hatter. 

When Prof. Crane decides to master fear by frightening others.  

When Two-Face scars the coin that scarred him and adopts it as his regulator.  

When Joe Coyne finally snaps and silently shouts out, “PENNIES WILL BE MY CRIME SYMBOL!”

Wow. How sad is it that even when you line him up against the Joker, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, and Two-Face, it's Joe who looks like The Crazy One?

It’s a sort of peripeteian epiphany of evil.  Not only do you perceive and accept the horrible fate that has befallen you, but, rather than be crushed by its cruelty, you resolve to reverse it and use it against others.
It’s a very special event, this Peripeteian Epiphany of Evil.  It may happen in other forms in literature, but the comic book is its native land.  Although it’s not necessarily confined to evil-doers (“Crime terrified me, so I shall become a bat and terrify crime!”), but it is with villains that it takes its most dramatic form, because they can abandon all reason in the process.
And Rocky Grimes certainly abandons all reason in the process!  After his peripeteian ephiphany of evil, Rocky Grimes decides to “stone” his enemies to death in creative and personalized ways. 

Which you'll discover tomorrow.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Rocky Grimes Week #1: Rock Out!

On the first day of Rocky Grimes Week, we find Grimes serving out his last day in prison just as he has served the last twenty years: on the rock pile.
Hey, Rocky’s on the rock pile! Ha, surely just a small pun/coincidence.  Certainly nothing you’d build a character around.  Surely.

Rock piles, by the way, weren’t just a cartoon thing; they were a real thing.  Prisoners for serious crimes would be put to work smashing rocks into gravel, which could then be used on state construction projects (frequently road-building).  It also served as a physical outlet for aggression and saved a ton of money on gym equipment.
Rocky had had one other hobby in addition to rockpiling for the last 20 years; protesting ignorance of his own guilt.
“Rocky, we have your fingerprints, eyewitnesses, photographs, a charcoal sketch done by art student, plus you shouted your own name out while you shot someone.  But your wacky ‘I didn’t do it’ routine has been so amusing these last 20 years!  I’m sure you’re just pretending to be innocent.  Because if you actually had amnesia then we might have to get you some medical treatment, ha ha.  By the way, nice job on the rock pile, and here’s your old suit back.”

Frankly, I’m impressed that after twenty years, Rocky can still wear the same suit.  I may need to add rock piling into my workout routine. 

Finally free, Rocky leaves the stone walls of prison for the stone streets of Gotham, where street lights must about three inches high, because everyone is always lit dramatically from below, such that huge dark shadows can loom behind them ominously, following them everywhere, like an unremembered shady criminal past.
"This lighting scheme brought to you by a grant from the Wayne Foundation."

But then fate, which favors white-wall tires, drives by, and hit Grimes in the head… with a stone!
Prisoners labor for twenty years making gravel and still Gotham has cobblestone streets? WTF, Gotham DoT?!  Knowing Gotham, some corrupt official sold the gravel to Central City and pocketed the money, leaving Gothamites to wheel about on dilapidated cobblestone streets.

As fate’s white wheels would have it, the stone that hits Rocky’s temple  restores his memory! 
It's like a Gotham gameshow.  "Okay, you chose what was behind the Black Curtain of Unconsciousness.  And it's... a life wasted in prison and sudden old age!  And a goat!"

And Rocky finally remembers that he really was a crook!

But not just any crook: he was the Stupidest Crook in Gotham.
“How’s my robbing? Email me at”

"Sorry, I have to shoot and run," Rocky says.  "But I need to post this on my Facebook wall and update my bankrobbery blog." I'll say this for Rocky; he's certainly got the vanity and foolhardy bravado that a first-class villain needs.  Maybe he's primed for bigger things.
In addition to the robbery, he also finally remembers what happened to him later, at Gotham’s lowest-ceilinged hideout…

Why don't they just shoot him?  These guys are clearly not cut out to be Gotham gangsters.  The Penguin totally would have just shot this guy, probably while making a condescending remark.

Really, it’s remarkable how unerringly stones go right to Rocky’s temple, almost as if guided by some sort of, I dunno, stone temple pilots.  

Rocky, the vain and murderous one, took the fall for the rest of the gang and thanks to his amnesia couldn’t rat them out if he wanted to.
But now that Rocky has regained his memory, what do you think his reaction is? 
(a)   “What a fool and a jackass I was! I’m lucky I didn’t get the chair.  Time to go straight!”

(b)   “Ha! Now all I have to do is testify against my fellow gangmembers! They’ll all go to prison for the next twenty years while I’m free, ha ha!”

(c)    “Flying cobblestones? WTF, Gotham DoT?! I’m going to sue the pants off the city and be set for life!”

(d)   “Wait, I can still wear the same suit I wore twenty years ago? I can make millions as a fitness guru with my Rockpile System! God bless you, Warden Crichton, and your advanced theories of penology!”

We’ll find out tomorrow, won’t we?