Friday, December 11, 2020

The Man Who Replaced Batman (Part 5): The Vector of the Gun

So, I'm going to skip over the part of the story where: 

  • Batman eavesdrops on a Deadshot phone call by hiding in a closet and putting a (I kid you not) wet-rimmed glass to a wall;
  • hears Deadshot's giving some crook the all-clear for a heist;
  • strong-arms Gordon into a stakeout for said heist, which never happens, thus reaffirming Gordon's dismissal of Batman's concerns about Deadshot as mere jealousy,
  • while Deadshot, who set the whole thing up knowing that Batman would tumble to it, laughs at Batman for being a sucker.

Actually, you deserve to see that last part:

Because Batman's vertigo of cognitive dissonance is a thing of beauty.
"But.. but.. I'm... Batman?"

I simply love the fact that, although criminals have been shooting at Batman every night since May of 1939, this time it's just accepted as fact that: Deadshot has a gun and he's going to shoot Batman dead and get away it.  Even though Batman could kidnap Lawton (and Stevens) and sell them into slavery in the Transvaal, or just drop them off in Antarctica without, you know, ACTUALLY killing them.  Or could announce to the public "Deadshot is a criminal who has vowed to kill me so if he shoots me it was on purpose".  No, the crux of the issue has been that Daddy Gordon now believes DEADSHOT, who is his new favorite, over Batman. So fixing that and that ALONE is the only way out.

But first Deadshot gets to shoot Batman.

"It's a perfect night.... FOR MURDER!"

Then Batman turns the tables by back-sassing Deadshot:

"Have you ever killed a man, Floyd?  Ever hear of a man named 'Jabah'?
Yeah; neither has anyone else..."

I know Batman is a master of criminal psychology (you should read his thesis!), but this is still a baller move.  

Batman seldom unleashes the full power of his most lethal weapon: smack talk.

Batman probably spends too much time with the Joker.

Batman definitely spends too much time with the Joker.

Have ever quaked so badly from self-doubt in the face of existential terror that your domino mask falls off? It makes an already bad situation that much more embarrassing. Spirit gum can't hold together a shattered soul.

What would have been really awesome would have been for Deadshot to shoot himself in the head right then and there.  But this is 1950, not 1940, and it's not the style.  

"By telling him I'd rented a white stretch limo to take you to prom and that you'd promised me third base!"

Batman (the modern Odysseus), it turns out, has won again by his usual method: cheating.

Batman's faith in the mathematics of parallax is unparalleled.

Clearly this is unrealistic because a marksman like Deadshot would almost immediately realize that his sights had been altered and adjust accordingly. But what matters is the thematic come-uppance. Deadshot struck at Batman's confidence in himself and Gordon's confidence in Batman.  But Deadshot was vulnerable because his confidence was externally placed -- in his guns-- rather than internally rooted in himself.  

It's the same way Batman defeats Jean-Paul "Azrael/Batman" Valley in 1994.  

It's why the Dark Knight Returns Batman tells his new troops they don't use guns. 

It's the tactical reason Batman doesn't use them himself. Not because he's 'afraid' of using them; but because he's afraid of becoming reliant on such a tool.  Batman's explanation for how he can do things is not "because I have a gun/utility belt/vast fortune"; it's 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The Man Who Replaced Batman (Part 4): A Fight at the Opera

You'd think that once Batman knows Deadshot's real identity, the jig would be up, and the story would be over.  But, no; that would make too much sense. Nothing is ever direct or straightforward in a Golden Age story.  The plots are always off-center enough and roundabout that the outcome will (it is hoped) be a surprise.  Why, it's the literary equivalent of one of Deadshot's trick shots!

It explains the popularity of Golden Age Green Arrow;
it came as surprise every time he survived to the end of the story.

Now knowing Deadshot's 411, Batman does the Batman-thing and skulks about the shadows around Floyd's house, looking for more dirt on him--which Floyd presently provides:

Well, who could have seen that coming?

Turns out Floyd's not only a liar, he's a crook. Floyd is another-- nay, perhaps the first -- in the breed of Anti-Batmans that comic writers have thrown at us for decades.  Which ignores the fact that you can't sensibly invert the concept of Batman. Bruce Wayne was able to become a crimefighter because he happened to be rich.  But people don't become criminals because they happen to be rich; they become criminals IN ORDER to become rich.  

This same nonsensical inverted Batman concept would be used again only eight months later when Cameron "Killer Moth" Van Cleer is introduced.  

Except even Killer Moth wasn't dumb enough to rely on mere guns to defeat Batman.  He wielded the power of cross-media branding.

What on earth does a millionaire gun hobbyist like Floyd Lawton have to gain by becoming a crime lord? What's that going to get him, better seats at the opera? It's just like the Kim Possible villain, Señor Senior, Sr., who became a supervillain as a hobby because he was bored with just being rich.  

GOD, I love that guy: "World-class villains are defined by disproportionate revenge."

This discovery makes Batman & Robin angry enough to take a run at the fourth wall, to no avail.

Pictured: a direct frontal attack.

So, rather than going to Commissioner Gordon (or the press!), Batman confronts Deadshot directly. Where? At the opera, of course.  

I told you they needed an Operatic Crimes Division, but you didn't believe me, did you?

You have to love the erudition of Gotham City's underworld. In what other city, real or fictional, would an escaped convict make a beeline for the operahouse?  "Massenet's Grisélidis may not be performed again in my lifetime, and even if means I am caught and get the chair, at least I shall not have died uncultured! Haw!"  It's like an entire demimonde of Sideshow Bobs.

Deadshot, to his credit, calls Batman's bluff with one of literature's most glorious "SO WHAT?"s.  

DeGrassi: The Gotham Years

That's some pretty serious 'tec-blocking by Deadshot.  Poor Batman detected his little butt off, only to be undone by a haughty 'nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah nyah' from Floyd.  I must confess, it's delightfully refreshing.

So, far, this has all been just a verbal slapfight between Batman and Deadshot, like two teen debs fighting over who gets to take dreamy debate team captain Jimmy Gordon to Homecoming.  

And who can blame them?!

But now it gets SERIOUS. 

"Yes, sir; Operatic Crimes Division;
we're here about the incident you reported.  Did your wall have any enemies?"

Deadshot is a criminal genius; I guess no one's ever thought of just SHOOTING Batman before.  Although since he's Batman's competition and a crackshot, I should rather imagine that EVERYONE would suspect.  Besides, Deadshot already had his 'one miss' when he stupidly shot a hole in his own pocket.

Setting aside Deadshot's sudden extreme threat, let's consider his sudden eXXXtreme shooting.  It's important to note (as we have not before) that, even though it's 1950 not 1850, Deadshot uses REVOLVERS, not automatics.  As a practical matter, this makes no sense at all, of course; one can only assume that's just what 'a gun' looks like in the artist's mind.  

Now, it takes about 16 seconds (maybe as much as 19, if you are being particularly dramatic) to say the words Deadshot is saying in that panel.  During which he shoots approximately 135 bullets into the wall, which (given the need to reload his six-shooter while wearing opera gloves) would take, oh, 8 minutes, minimum.  

Trust me on this.

I bet that made for a pretty awkward 7 minutes or so, where Batman just stood there having to wait for Deadshot to finish his little LiteBrite project.  

Deadshot would have been a great Green Arrow foe.  For the one story it would take for him to kill Ollie. Because 135 bullets beat 35 arrows.

Batman, stymied by Deadshot's "so what" of existential invalidation, vows to stalk Deadshot as if his life depended on it, because it does.

Note again: fear of being supplanted in the affection of others.

Now it gets REALLY weird...

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

The Man Who Replaced Batman (Part 3): The Clever Bomb Ruse!

When we last left Batman, he's spirited away a scrap of Deadshot's clothing (when he managed to shoot out his own pocket, as expert marksmen so frequently do).

Robin correctly identifies how threadbare a clue it is, mostly in order to set up how awesome Batman is when that's all he needs to successfully deduce Deadshot's identity.  Being a zillionaire himself, Batman can recognize pricey cloth so they do a thorough canvass of better men's shops which in a city the size of Gotham probably takes, oh, about two months, unless they are lucky enough to get Frank Nelson's help.

Fortunately, Frank Nelson CAN help them because this is Ye Olde Days when clothiers would have been making custom tuxedoes from their own bespoke cloth. Which I'm not certain is a thing that ever actually happened.  BUT Gotham's gotta Gotham.

Then Batman expounds on whatever Latest Development the writers read about in the news that they decided to make a plot point; in this case, it's some sort of multi-camera magic measuring set-up.

Those leaps of logic Adam West used to do in the '60s show? Not an exaggeration.

With this ridiculous premise in place, Batman sets up a Traditional Golden Age Ruse to get Deadshot's measurements.

Don't let Bruce fool you; there were three cameras in the room already.

Oh, Bruce. "Yas, despite believing there's a time-bomb in my house, I daren't leave,  you see, because it's after 6PM and that would require I change out of my smoking jacket into proper evening attire and, this being Monday, it's my man Alfred's night off, of course."  The Gotham cops are probably accustomed to such nonsense from Bruce as he's setting up some ruse on Batman's behalf at least once a month; "Maybe the raccoons we chased out of your attic last week left a time-bomb, Mr. Wayne; sure, we'll check it out for you."

Naturally, Gotham cops can't look for a time-bomb by themselves (and all the funds from the Bomb Squad were diverted to the Operatic Crimes Division), so Gordon sends one of his pet vigilantes along because, after all, Bruce Wayne is a healthy contributor to the Policeman's Benevolence Fund.

OF COURSE he joined one of Bruce's clubs;
probably took Cameron Van Cleer's locker.

So, naturally, Batman simply exposes Deadshot's identity as Lawton, who is immediately and ironically gunned down by mobsters in retaliation for his crimefighting activities, and Batman is once again No. 1 in Jim Gordon's affections.

Right?  Surely? Not exactly... .

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

The Man Who Replaced Batman (Part 2): Liar, Liar, Please Don't Fire

We left Jim Gordon confronting the uncomfortable ramifications of his own swift and utter embrace of vigilantism in the city where maintenance of law & order are his responsibility.  Batman is one thing, because, well... he's Batman.  

But he's ALSO a precedential nightmare and now some exceedingly well-dressed gun-nut is arguing that Batman having a monopoly on crime-fighting is an anti-trust issue.  As in, why trust Batman, and not me?

Other things to consider are Jim's impending singing telegram, glass-encased emergency toilet paper display, and atomic lava lamp.  At your leisure.

So... gun permits have NAMES on them, you know.  The gun doesn't have a permit; YOU do... to own the gun.  Did Deadshot just show Jim permits with the name redacted?  Or, did Jim just waive them off, saying, "Well, yes, I'm sure it's all in order."  You know how lazy Jim is.  And indulgent of sturdy young vigilantes in dashing costumes.

"We have openings in our new Operatic Crimes Division, you'd be perfect.  You'd be surprised how much opera-based crime there is in Gotham, and it's not as if I can assign it to Slam Bradley and Casey the Cop, you know."

Now, if Deadshot were being undiplomatic he'd simply reply "because your imbecilic praetorian guard is composed of addlepated stumblebums who can accomplish nothing while costumed freaks run rampart around our fair city."  Because that's how men in top hats talk. But men in top hats are also notorious diplomatic so he fobs off the offer with the flimsy excuse of a war wound:

Pretty sure steel plates are inside your leg, not grafted outside. Pretty sure those are just those thingies that hold your socks up.  Guys in top hats love those.

Clearly that was just an excuse for Deadshot to show Jim a little leg, increasing his chance of approval.  But, let's focus in on this statement a bit:

Well, Jim; isn't that reason ENOUGH for Deadshot not to want to join the department?

Deadshot takes advantage of Gordon's spineless ineffectuality to start shooting at those who threaten his hat-superiority:

"N-n-noo! Not MY HAT!"
This is 1950, mister; without a hat, you might as well be dead.

Props to the Golden Age artist who put a Batman & Robin statue in a public park as a way of both lampshading Gotham's indecent worship of the Dynamic Duo and putting Deadshot literally in their shadow, as well as metaphorically.  Golden Age artists understood economy of storytelling.  

By the time Bruce & Dick return from their cruise, it is to a different status quo (of which they are wholly unaware, because god forbid they should read any newspapers, which are surely chockfull of articles and editorials about the trigger-happy, tuxedoed vigilante shooting at poor non-innocent criminals).

Maybe there's a sale at Target, Dick. 

Gordon explains that, in the half-minute Batman took a vacation, he found a way to make his job even easier by adopting another vigilante.

"Yes, I do; that's why I'm already part of Dynamic Duo, you overdressed poseur."

This fear of being supplanted is a common theme in comics of this era, because the audience was children.  Children are paranoid about being replaced in their parents' affections.  They are often jealous of attention their parents give to other children, they are afraid of being upstaged by baby siblings, or replaced by a nimble circus orphan.  Golden and Silver Age comic books writers played on this fear. A LOT.  Characters in Batman and Superman stories frequently felt threatened that they were losing the affection of authority figures, of the public, or of one another, and, other than the death of a loved one, it was their WORST fear.  

For example, Joe Meach, the most powerful being in the universe, wasted his time humiliating the World's Finest in public so that he could make them fear being supplanted and becoming obsolete.  Because, for all the Composite Superman's power, Joe Meach was a small and petty man.

Starting counting all the stories from those eras where that -- fear of being supplanted -- is the crux of the plot and you'll be amazed.  It's no accident that Deadshot shows up when Batman is on vacation.

But, Deadshot is just a fancy dan and Batman is a DETECTIVE.  And he immediately detects that Deadshot's a liar during a joint field trip to interrogate a prisoner.

As you lay in bed tonight, drift off to sleep trying to find a justifying reason for Commissioner Gordon to send Batman and Deadshot to a penitentiary to interview an incarcerated felon.

With a puff of his pipe, Gordon poo-poos Batman's misgivings as pure piffel.
It's "eager", you vicious old queen, not "anxious".  Someone seems eager to put Batman in his place, like an overweening boy-toy who needs reminded that the Gotham streets are just full of hopeful young millionaire vigilantes waiting to become Jim's new favorite.

A BAT- prima donna! There's an image I didn't expect to encounter in a Golden Age story; it's both lively AND unbecoming. Yet I am hard-pressed to deem it inaccurate.


Clearly, in order to convince snippy ol' Jim Gordon that his latest adopted vigilante is bogus, Batman will need more EVIDENCE.  Fortunately, Batman is a detective and that's what he does; that evening, in fact, as crime erupts again in Gotham City:

"Look, circus boy, this was your choice; I wanted you to wear long pants and sleeves.  Alfred wanted you to wear long pants and sleeves. CHILD SERVICES wanted you to wear long pants and sleeves.  The only person who didn't want you to wear long pants and sleeves was Commissioner Gordon, for some reason."

Does crime really 'erupt' in Gotham City? Isn't it really more like a constant burbling? Isn't the sound of gently burbling crime what allows most Gothamites to nod off at night? In any case,  Batman gets his shot when Deadshot, the awesome trick shooter and marksman, manages somehow, utterly unexplained, to shoot a hole in his own pocket, apparently for the sole purpose of giving Batman a clue.

"Stevens! Fetch the darning kit!"

How on earth with that scrap of cloth let Batman undo Deadshot? Why, in most elaborate and tortured way imaginable, of course....

Monday, December 07, 2020

The Man Who Replaced Batman (Part 1): The Mandrake of Munitions

It's time to learn about


And, no, I don't mean Scott Snyder.

It starts with Bruce & Dick taking a vacation from being Batman & Robin, something they often did in the Golden and Silver Ages (when the plot required it).

It's surprising that they would do this. Not because grim-dark Batman must patrol the city every night (Golden Age Batman was NOT like that AT ALL), but because it must have been simply mortifying for Bruce to have an exuberant circus boy gallivant around a luxury cruise ship with him.

"Good lord, did they pick the locks in steerage?!"
"It's Wayne's little project: the circus boy."
"That would explain why he's hanging from the yardarm."

Meanwhile, in Gotham City, another zillionaire is -- unlike Bruce -- hard at work on the next phase of his career.

"Would that you were to confine your marksmanship to that private shooting range. I shall call a mason about the repairs to the fireplace at once, sir."

This guy happily shooting out cigarette butts was nearly the mascot of the Forest Service instead of Smokey.

But at this point Smokey the Jacket is on to a new career...

as a fighter against crime!

"A burglary-- excellent!"
is really NOT the proper attitude of a fighter against crime.

"Deadshot".  So, um, a guy with a gun. Like a cop. Like a Western marshal in top hat in tails. Like Fred Astaire had a baby with Rose Hood.  Okay.  There's got to be more to it than that.

By 1950, the Gotham City police had become achingly blasé
"Hm, by the by, there's a guy in a top hat and tails shooting at criminals.  Whaddayaknow."

Oh, wait, I see now: he's a TRICK shooter.  He doesn't just shoot people in the leg; he debilitates them through elaborate trick shots.

Using a tiny little gun that would embarrass the Honourable Phryne Fisher.  

He's the Martian Manhunter of pistolry.  He's Green Arrow with a gun.  Well, even though Batman & Robin aren't around to stop him, there's still official law enforcement in town.  They can't let a private citizen with his own firearms run around shooting at suspected lawbreakers; this is Gotham City, not Texas.

Wait. What? I ... what?