Detective Comics #38
November 17, 2014
The origin of the boy wonder! Contains more people falling from great heights than you originally thought!
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. And welcome back, my friends, to Secret Origins Month.
("Secret Origins Month" title is shown)
Linkara: Let's talk about one of the lost arts of superhero comics: the sidekick.
(A shot of Captain America's one-time sidekick, Bucky Barnes, is shown)
Linkara (v/o): Oh, sure, you'll still see sidekicks pop up every now and then in independent comics, usually in relation to analyzing the trope...
(Now cut to shots of one of the few ongoing superhero sidekicks, Robin)
Linkara (v/o): ...but when it comes to actual sidekicks in modern comics from the Big Two, I can think of only one: Robin. Or any of the extended Batman family, for that matter. I don't doubt that there are others out there in the Big Two, but they're definitely not as prominent as they once were. Think about it. The Teen Titans were created to bring together a bunch of sidekick characters, but the modern versions of them today? Red Robin: sidekick status questionable post-"New 52"; Wonder Girl: no relation to Wonder Woman; Kid Flash: no relation to The Flash. Aqualad and Speedy don't even exist in "The New 52", as far as I know.
Linkara: Unlike a lot of what I say, I don't mean that as a knock against "The New 52". The presence of sidekicks in superhero comics has been in decline for the last twenty years or so.
(A montage of younger superheroes, almost none of whom sidekicks to other characters, are shown)
Linkara (v/o): And I don't think there's a single reason for why that is. It's just a lot of factors coming together. One reason can be the perception of artificially aging characters by giving them a teenage sidekick. Another could be that writers just don't like seeing kids involved in the much more violent and bloody world of modern comics. Yet another is that any new child or teen superhero created tends to be their own independent thing, like the awesome "Ms. Marvel" series being made. Kamala Khan has Carol Danvers' name, but is not actually related to her in any way. Then there are "New 52" Teen Titans like Bunker and Skitter, completely new characters unrelated to any existing superheroes or adult influence.
Linkara: I suppose it's to allow them to make mistakes without a mentor around to guide them and thus foster more character development, but it is disappointing that so many adult superheroes don't have that balancing influence of a sidekick in their lives anymore. And you'd think that with everybody desperate to copy Batman, that they would try to copy that part, too.
Linkara (v/o): I mean, hell, you want to get kids and teens reading comics? Give them characters who they can relate to. That was part of the inspiration for Robin to begin with. And I suppose we should get back on track with that. Today, we're talking about the origins of Dick Grayson, age twelve, or whatever age he is in this book.
(Cut to a shot of Bill Finger)
Linkara (v/o): I sadly didn't give nearly enough credit to Bill Finger during my "Detective Comics #27" review.
(Cut to a shot of the early version of Batman from "Detective Comics #27")
Linkara (v/o): He was the one who revised a lot of the ideas Bob Kane had for Batman and pretty much created most of the character.
(Cut to a shot of Kane)
Linkara (v/o): Kane was notorious as a shrewd businessman who kinda screwed over Finger on the creation credits of a lot of Batman's iconography and character and could be kind of a boastful prick.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of "Detective Comics #27")
Linkara (v/o): However, the two did work together on the character, which includes the creation of Robin. There are a few factors that went into it. For starters, kids were digging Batman. And why not? Kids love superheroes, kids love stuff that seem more mature than them, and... and of course, kids love bats! ...I guess.
Linkara: Okay, I just needed a third thing to say. Whatever.
Linkara (v/o): Anyway, Bill Finger said that Batman was a combination of Douglas Fairbanks, the actor who played Zorro in 1920, and Sherlock Holmes. It bugged him that Batman didn't have anybody to talk to – Alfred hadn't been invented yet – and he wanted some kind of compatriot for him. Bob Kane wanted to put a kid in the book because of how many kids were enjoying it so they'd have a character they could identify with. And thus they went at it. Robin's design was inspired by both Robin Hood, whom Douglas Fairbanks had also played, and of course the bird. National Comics was a bit iffy at first on the character due to them not wanting to depict a child in life-threatening situations, something that would be echoed during the creation of Batman: The Animated Series, when Dick Grayson was made college-bound there due to fear from the network. But they were won over by the sales of the book, which doubled after his introduction. Kane wanted the character's backstory to be a mirror of Batman's, which is where I think the aforementioned Douglas-Fairbanks-as-Robin-Hood connection might come into play, though that's just speculation on my part. What I do know is that there was also a desire to lighten the mood of the book a bit, and Robin in the bright colors was exactly what was needed for that. Unfortunately, I could not find any information on why his name was Dick Grayson, but hey, it might have just been a name in the phone book, for all we know.
Linkara: So let's dig "Detective Comics #38" and see how Dick Grayson became Robin and then became Nightwing and then became Target and then was Nightwing again and then became Batman for a short while and then was Nightwing again and then was Batman for a longer time and then was Nightwing again, and now he's a secret agent for some stupid reason. (beat) Theme song!
(AT4W title sequence plays, and the title card has "Seize the Day" from Newsies playing in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Our cover is sadly fairly crowded, though I blame that mostly on the giant Detective Comics logo. Seriously, that's bigger than US-1's logo! You really don't need that much space for the typeface of a book that features a guy dressed up like a bat! Also, the front of that logo...
(Editor's note: "Font")
Linkara (v/o): ...is bothering me. It seems uneven and off-putting. Maybe it's the triangle for dotting an I. Maybe it's that "COMICS" is all capitalized while "Detective" is not. Maybe it's the M that has one side bigger than the other. In any event, the cover promises the addition of Robin.
Text: The Sensational Character-Find of 1940... Robin – the Boy Wonder!
Linkara: Yes, that talent hunt for fictional characters was really something else. It was down to Robin or Mickey Mouse, and Robin won through.
Linkara (v/o): Robin is bursting through this paper drum thing, and yet his cape is already up and over the top of it. Either there's a giant fan under there in the hopes that Marilyn Monroe was gonna pop out of that paper, or Robin's cape is made of unstable molecules and it phases through a solid object. Also, Batman's just kind of holding the paper sheet while he scratches his ass. And I think he's smiling, but that could be wincing because he hadn't seen the costume before.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We begin with our standard splash page, but lazily reusing the cover image, only on a red background instead of beige. I also notice from this that within only two years of operation, Batman has traded in his purple gloves for ones that actually correspond with his outfit. Good call.
Narrator: The BATMAN. That amazing, weird figure of night, at last takes under his protecting mantle an ally in his relentless fight against crime...
Linkara: (as narrator) And he will force him to eat rats and call him (makes "air quotes") "retarded" for not liking the name "Batmobile".
Narrator: Introducing in this issue... an exciting new figure whose incredible gymnastic and athletic feats will astound you...
Linkara: (as narrator) See his amazing athleticism as he casually walks through a paper drum.
Narrator: A laughing, fighting young daredevil who scoffs at danger like the legendary Robin Hood whose name and spirit he has adopted...
Linkara: Robin Hood: most known for his bright yellow cape and red tunic.
Linkara (v/o): We truly begin at the bottom of the page at a circus.
Narrator: Our scene... a rising young town outside the big city where the Haly Circus plays an engagement...
Linkara: True fact: Boffo the Clown used to be a participant at Haly Circus. Unfortunately, his act didn't really catch on. He could do three different people's taxes at the same time in only ten minutes!
(Cut to Boffo, who honks his horn)
Linkara: I agree, Boffo. If Cirque du Soleil hadn't come around, you would've been a star by now.
Narrator: Inside the big tent the Flying Graysons, Father, Mother and young son, Dick swing on the flying trapeze.
Linkara: (as narrator) There's also Dick's older brother, but (looks around) I can't see where he's... (suddenly stops and becomes worried as he stares someplace) Oh... (becomes sickly) Ohhh... Ohhh...
Linkara (v/o): Later, after the show, Dick walks by Mr. Haly's room and overhears some gangsters trying to extort money out of him for a protection racket.
Gangster: You don't want to die, do you? Be sensible. Pay us and protect the show from "accidents."
Mr. Haly: Get out! Get out!
Linkara (v/o): I don't know, Mr. Haly. That photo on the wall makes a very convincing argument. The next night, Bruce Wayne is attending the circus, and Dick's parents are performing without him: a death-defying act without a net. They pull off the trick, but all of a sudden, the ropes holding the two up snap and they fall to the ground.
Dick: Are... Are th-they... Oh n-no they...
Bruce: I'm afraid so, son.
Linkara: (as Bruce) Yes, I'm very sorry, Dick. Don't worry, we'll clean all this up. (calls out) SOMEBODY GET A SPATULA!
Linkara (v/o): Later, Haly once again meets with the gangsters, who of course point out that little "accident" wouldn't have happened if he'd paid. Haly is pissed, of course, but agrees to pay to make sure no one else is killed. Although, despite these guys being evil, I can't help but love this one goon's whittling hobby. I bet he makes tiny horse figurines. Dick, still eavesdropping instead of mourning, is outside and overhears this. He says out loud that he'll go to the police, but fortunately, the goons don't hear it. However, someone does hear it.
Batman: No son, not yet!
Linkara: (as Batman, wearing his mask) You need to become a vigilante like me! I'm not screwed up or have any kind of bizarre issues from dressing up like a bat! (beat, then poses proudly) I am the night.
Batman: I'm the Batman!
Linkara: (as Batman) First name: "Goddamn".
Batman: I want to help you get those murderers!
Linkara: (as Batman) But not quite yet. You see, um, I'm double-parked outside.
Batman: They put acid on the trapeze ropes! But you can't go to the police--come with me!
Linkara: That's right, kids, don't trust the police, trust the strange man in black and a face-concealing mask!
Linkara (v/o): Between this and Captain Marvel's origins, the '40s were very trusting to shadowy adults. And one panel later, they're driving around.
(Cut to a clip of Garth Marenghi's Darkplace)
Narrator: I went for a drive today to clear my head, which is why I'm in the car.
(Cut back to the comic)
Dick: Why can't I tell the police?
Linkara: (stroking chin) Hmm, you know what this scene of them in the car is missing? Batman calling the traumatized child names and derogatory terms.
Batman: Because this whole town is run by Boss Zucco. If you told what you knew you'd be dead in an hour. I'm going to hide you in my home for a while.
Linkara: (as Batman) Bathroom's down the hall. (points to camera) And don't you dare touch any of my commemorative plates, or else you'll get put in bat-timeout!
Narrator: The Batman thinks back to the time when his parents, too, were innocent victims of a criminal.
Linkara: Well, if random commenters on the Internet have taught me anything, they clearly were (points to camera) asking to be mugged and killed because of the way they were dressed.
Batman: My parents too were killed by a criminal. That's why I've devoted my life to exterminate them.
Linkara: (as Batman, holding out a gun) Here, take this gun.
Linkara (v/o): Dick says he wants to devote his life to fighting crime as well.
Narrator: The Batman is reluctant but the troubled face of the boy moves him deeply.
Linkara: (holds up index finger) Actually, Batman, that's because he didn't get a chance to use the bathroom before you two left.
Batman: Well, I guess you and I were both victims of a similar trouble, all right. I'll make you my aid. But I warn you, I lead a perilous life!
Linkara: (as Batman) Agents of rock 'n' roll conspire daily to thwart me for my efforts to destroy them!
Linkara (v/o): That night, the two stand in a dark room next to a candle to make a vow. It's a bit melodramatic, but I love it, making a ritual out of their promise they make here.
Linkara: It's an iconic moment in comics, homaged and redrawn just as many times as Bruce seeing the bat that came in the window and inspired him to begin his quest as Batman. So naturally, I'm gonna start making fun of it because I'm really immature. (gives a thumbs-up)
Batman: –and swear that we two will fight together against crime and corruption...
Linkara: (holds up pinkie finger) Pinkie swear!
Batman: ...and to never swerve from the path of righteousness!
Linkara: (as Batman) And to never swerve into me when we're playing Mario Kart. On that note, to never use the blue shell. (as Robin) Look, I need to use whatever I can to win the race– (as Batman) SWEAR TO ME!
Robin: I swear it!
Linkara: (as Batman) Good! And now the Pledge of Allegiance.
Linkara (v/o): And so, the two begin training together.
Dick: I've been doing this since I was four years old!
Linkara: (as Bruce Wayne, arms crossed) Bit of a showoff, aren't you, kid?
Bruce: As far as swinging ropes go, you could probably teach me a trick or two!
Linkara: (as Bruce) Yes, Dick, teach me to be a swinger!
Linkara (v/o): And then after some boxing training, it's naturally onto... jiu jitsu, as natural and seamless a training regimen as one can expect with a little kid. Mind you, Bruce seems to be in the middle of teaching Dick about being in the Matrix, since he looks like he's running on a wall. And then we have Dick's arms.
(Linkara is seen holding up his arms in an awkward position, in imitation of Dick's pose in question)
Linkara: (as Dick) We call this move the reverse Wonder Woman.
Linkara (v/o): He has become Robin, without any explanation in-story about why his costume looks like it does, in particular, the lack of pants. But anyway, enough of that stuff like heroic motivation and the difficulties of training a child and, well, I'm assuming adopting him off-panel, since we suddenly cut to several months later, where Dick is about to be put on his first assignment.
Bruce: You're going to get a job as a newsboy...
Linkara: (as Bruce) That Billy Batson kid has been muscling in on my newspaper empire. (clenches fist) We're gonna kill the competition.
Linkara (v/o): And so, Dick Grayson is now a newsboy. Because... uh... this helps take down Zucco? Although, a similar thing happens, since two other older boys go up to him and inform Dick that every kid that sells newspapers gives them a third of their take every week.
Boy: And you ain't no exception! Get this, if we catch you holding out we'll beat you up and take away your papers.
Dick: I'll pay! I'll pay!
Linkara: (as the older boy) Good! Now let us return to what we newsies usually do: sing and dance! (singing) Now is the time to seize the day!
Offscreen voices: Now is the time to seize the day!
Linkara (v/o): So, while Dick is putting his life on the line in the dark criminal cesspool that is the newspaper boy racket, Bruce sits at home in his robes, smoking a pipe. But anyway, he instructs Dick to play along and then to follow them after they get their money, which he does so. They head to a mysterious house, where we see... uh, an early version of Smokescreen from those smoking PSA comics I did a few years ago? Seriously, what is with this guy and all the smoke leaking out of his body?! Is he some kind of living teakettle with steam constantly pouring out of him? Is he the source behind the "I'm a Little Teapot" song? Or is he on fire? Or is he a cartoon character who's really annoyed? Erm, whatever. He gives instructions on where he wants his goons to hit, and Dick makes note of all of them. The next night, two goons are hassling a tailor shop owner.
Narrator: Suddenly from behind...
Batman: (thinking) Don't talk so much!!
(Cut to a clip of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang watching The Starfighters)
Mike: Now why don't you kiss her instead of talking her to death?
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): But... yyyeah... I'm just confused. That's a thought balloon, and it doesn't seem to be connected to anybody. Who's saying to not talk? The goon? Batman? If it's Batman, why doesn't he want them to talk so much? They might give something useful away. But whatever. He grabs the backs of their necks and knocks their heads together.
Batman: Hollow...just as I thought!
Linkara: (as Batman, wearing his mask) Zucco is using reanimated porcelain dolls as goons! Diabolical!
Batman: If you see Boss Zucco, tell him the Batman was here.
Linkara: (as Batman) I tried leaving a message on his voicemail, but it was full.
Linkara (v/o): Batman proceeds to follow that up with beating a goon at a butcher shop.
Batman: Tell Zucco I just dropped in to say "hello"!
Linkara: Batman's just too shy to ask Zucco out himself.
Linkara (v/o): And then he breaks into a casino that Zucco owns and beats up even more people, at one point lifting up a friggin' roulette wheel and tossing it at a few goons. Pretty tame roulette wheel, though; it only goes up to nine. I do love how awkward this image looks, with him bending his legs backward while he's lifting it, like he's not really able to hold the weight.
Linkara: (as Batman, pretending to struggle to hold up heavy object) I am vengeance! I am the night! I am... Oh, crap! (falls over from the imaginary weight)
Linkara (v/o): Oh, my God, now he's wielding it like a friggin' battering ram! Next, he's gonna use it like a gun and shoot chips at people as projectiles! From there, he goes to a laundromat and kicks out some more goons.
Batman: And tell Zucco he needs a little cleaning himself!
Linkara: (as Batman) Ancient Chinese secret, huh?
Linkara (v/o): It is weird seeing Batman at a laundromat, though. As we all know, he washes his tights at home. And then he's taking an ax to Zucco's spare slot machines.
Linkara: (as Batman, imitating Jack Nicholson in The Shining) Heeere's Batman! (smiles sadistically)
Linkara (v/o): Zucco is naturally perturbed by all this and then receives a package from him. When they open it, a bat flies out.
Zucco: It must be from the Batman!
Goon: Look! There's a note inside the box!
Linkara: (reading a note) "Dear Zucco, I stuffed a living, innocent creature inside a box without any airholes just to freak you out. As you can probably tell, I'm a little nuts."
Linkara (v/o): Actually, the note is telling Zucco to leave town and that he knows he's gonna try the protection racket on a construction crew.
Zucco: Oh yeah! I'm boss of this town, see! No one can talk to me like that and get away with it! C'mon, boys, we're going to the Canin Building.
Linkara: (as Zucco) Bring me my smoking jacket, my smoking hat, my smoking tie, and my smoking underwear.
Linkara (v/o): Robin, still following them, exposits that Batman's plan worked. The idea is to lure Zucco out of his home so he'll look at operations himself. Zucco and his goons arrive, but to their shock, Robin is there, too, when he attacks. Also, for some reason, despite Zucco wanting to talk to the guy who owns the building, he's hanging out in the middle of the construction area on a bunch of steel beams. I fully expect them to accidentally run into Jumpman fighting Donkey Kong in this place.
(Cut to the cover of "All-American Comics #16")
Linkara (v/o): Or, within the same universe, Green Lantern in matching colors to Robin.
(Cut back to the Batman comic)
Linkara (v/o): Zucco, not being an idiot, recognizes the threat from the costumed child and orders his men to open fire on him.
Narrator: Like David fighting Goliath Robin fights the gangsters!
Linkara: Yyyeah, but Goliath didn't have guns. And he was only one guy.
Linkara (v/o): What the narrator means is that Robin uses a sling to hit one guy on the head, then leaps over to a hanging crane, swings over, and kicks some more of the goons. You know, given the beams and edges they're walking on, it's very possible we have yet another example of our character not being afraid to kill people! AND IT'S ANOTHER CHILD!! Robin does pretty well, but then suddenly slips on a girder. A gangster goes over to finish him off, but Robin is able to swing himself around and directly kicks the guy off.
Narrator: Kicking the gunman off the girder into space!
Linkara: (confused) Robin's kicks can send people into outer space?!
Linkara (v/o): Zucco readies his own gun to finish Robin off, but Batman finally comes in to kick his ass. One of the goons, after spotting Batman, decides to make a run for it.
Narrator: A rope suddenly loops about Blade and jerks him off the girder!
Linkara: Few people know that Blade the Vampire Hunter used to be a gangster. And white. And in a completely different company.
Linkara (v/o): Just to show how this Batman doesn't screw around, he hangs Blade up by the neck, which somehow does not kill him. However, he then produces a vial of acid and says he'll use it to eat away at the ropes unless he confesses to murdering the Flying Graysons the same way. Blade quickly confesses and signs a statement to that effect, which... I don't know. Pre-Miranda rights, this might actually hold up in court. However, Zucco's pretty pissed about the squealer and lunges at him, sending him off-balance enough for Blade to go over the edge and... presumably to his death, since neither Batman nor Robin go to rescue him. In fact, Batman specifically has Robin takes photographs of Zucco murdering him, so they've got evidence against him for his criminal activities.
Batman: I had the boy bring a camera just in case! He snapped you pushing off Blade! The film and the confession will be sent to the Governor! "Boss" Zucco, your boss will be the "electric chair!"
Linkara: (as Batman, pointing to camera) And he's not giving you time off for Christmas!
Linkara (v/o): So, here's the unintended theme of this year's Secret Origins Month: not sidekicks or partners or even child superheroes... BUT MURDEROUS BEGINNINGS!!
Linkara: (shrugs) So, hey, you guys are getting Supervillain Origins Month this year!
Linkara (v/o): And a few days later, Zucco is found guilty of murder and the Governor swears to clean up city politics.
Bruce: Well, Dick, now that your parents' deaths have been avenged, are you going back to circus life?
Dick: No, I think Mother and Dad would like me to go on fighting crime, – and as for me... well... I love adventure!
Linkara: (as Dick) I've seen more death than most people see in their entire lives! (pumps arm) Bring on the adventure!
Linkara (v/o): And so, our story ends with the revelation that Robin wasn't actually supposed to take on the goons alone, but he didn't "want to miss any of the fun."
Linkara: And to think Robin was brought on to make these stories more lighthearted! What was Batman doing before this? Shoving people into vats of acid?! (panels from Batman's first appearance are superimposed, showing him doing just that) Oh, right.
Linkara (v/o): So, what's next for Batman and Robin?
Text: THRILLS, THRILLS AND MORE THRILLS...
Linkara: But do you have thrills?! Anyway, this origin is... okay for the most part.
Linkara (v/o): You know, it's stuff like this that really does justify retcons in comics. The origin's basics are sound: Zucco's protection racket on the circus and the murder of Dick's parents, Batman taking him in to protect him because of corrupt cops, even the two working together to bring down Zucco. But then we start getting murderous bloodlust out of the two and just... yeesh! Still, aside from that, it's action-packed, and Dick is a likeable, skilled character, and it's understandable why kids would love the character. And hell, despite meta jokes about Robin being there to distract criminals, he kicks all sorts of ass on his own in this comic. Even when he slips on the girder, he was able to take out a guy.
Linkara: Next week, we'll see if the murder streak will continue in our conclusion to this year's Secret Origins Month. It might be the case, too, because even if these heroes can't save the Earth, you'll be damn sure they'll avenge it.
(End credits roll)
I'm sure people are surprised I didn't an Avatar: The Last Airbender joke with Zucco and Zuko. Haven't watched it yet. Will get around to it.
Boss Zucco would never reach the electric chair, instead suffocating from the excessive smoke in a holding cell that was not properly ventilated.
(Stinger: The panel showing Dick deciding to forgo circus life in favor of crimefighting is shown)
Dick: Say, I can hardly wait till we go on our next case. I bet it'll be a corker!
Linkara: (as Dick) And by that, I mean we'll shove a corkscrew into a villain's chest! (as Bruce, wearing Batman's mask) You know, suddenly, my "All-Star" book is beginning to make a lot of sense. (looks aside briefly) Actually, no, no, it still isn't.