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A Year of Cool Comics – Day 179

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at Batman #47, by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Charles Paris – the first full exploration into Batman’s origin!

Enjoy!

Batman’s origin was first displayed shortly into Batman’s comic book career, in the seventh comic he appeared in, Detective Comics #33, in a short two-pager by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. However, that two-page origin was it for Batman’s origins for nearly a DECADE until Batman #47, when Finger joined up with Kane and Paris to tell an expanded version of the origin as part of the return of Joe Chill – with a great twist at the end!

Before we get to the story (which is surprisingly the THIRD tale in the book!), check out the legendary cover to the issue…

The story begins with Batman and Robin stopping a criminal-trafficking scheme. Only when they investigate further, Batman discovers that the head of the scheme is the man who killed his parents!!

I believe this was the introduction of the name “Joe Chill” and the name “Martha Wayne.”

Batman figures out a way to draw Chill out – he stops a bad guy, letting him run to Chill so that Chill could smuggle him out of the country…

That’s a damned powerful scene there, eh?

It continues with a strong sequence here, leading to the big twist…

What a cool resolution to Chill learning Batman’s identity! It’s such a great idea that I almost wonder if Finger did not see it used somewhere else. Anyone recall a similar bit in a novel or pulp fiction story? It’s an impressive sequence even if it is adapted from somewhere else.

Then the conclusion…

Very cool twist.

One funny bit, though, is that Finger apparently felt that what happened to Chill wasn’t obvious enough, so he had Chill reiterate what was going on. They should totally adopt that style in other media. Dickens had a missed opportunity! Instead of ending A Tale of Two Cities with “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known” he could have ended it with “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known. I’m saying this because I’m sacrificing myself so that another guy could live.”

You can find this story in the original Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told trade collection, plus I believe it was recently reprinted in a volume of Batman Chronicles.

18 Comments

Great twist, hilarious commentary, Brian.

Has that plot ever been reused?

Later (but still in the Golden Age) it’s revealed that Chill was working for a gangster named Moxon who had a vendetta against Thomas Wayne. The story here is also the template for Morrison’s “Joe Chill in Hell,” which features some interesting revisions, most notably that Batman coerces Joe Chill into taking his own life.

“Joe Chill in Hell” is Batman #673, if any one wants to go through their back issues to compare.

Crash, it was just recently re-used in Batman Brave and the Bold animated series…

Also Kurt Busiek used a variation of this story with Jack-In-The-Box in Astro City…I want to say it is collected in Family Album or Local Heroes

I read this story in one of the Batman tabloids when I was a kid.

The effect with Bruce’s eyes memorizing Chill’s features is effective and creepy.

I’d forgotten that he didn’t shoot Martha in the original! I wonder when that changed.

“Batman… the guy who sent me up for ten years!” Ah, the days when there was no sliding timeline and no one worried about it!

Stephane Savoie

June 24, 2010 at 5:50 am

Interesting that it’s become a standard trope that, if the villain responsible for creating the hero gets told the hero’s id, dies moments thereafter (see the Spider-Man film, for example).
I wonder if this was its first use?

It’s such a great idea that I almost wonder if Finger did not see it used somewhere else.

Damning with faint praise, are we Brian?

I also had no idea that originally Martha Wayne wasn’t shot, but died from a heart attack.
I’d guess that was Frank Miller in Year One that made the change, but I really have no idea.

I have a much better understanding of Morrison’s “Joe Chill in Hell” after seeing this.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 24, 2010 at 6:17 am

@ TheDude: I also had no idea that originally Martha Wayne wasn’t shot, but died from a heart attack.
I’d guess that was Frank Miller in Year One that made the change, but I really have no idea.

In Batman #33’s original origin, Martha survives Thomas’s shooting and the mugger implicitly shoots her off-panel, responding to her crying over Thomas with “This’ll shut you up!” No mention of a heart attack is made.

By the later 1940s, even this was unacceptable,* so Finger changed Martha’s death, taking clever advantage of the fact that she was not shown being shot on-panel to say she wasn’t shot at all. And as this coudl survive the Comics Code, Finger’s idea stuck pretty well.

Much later, Denny O’Neil showed Martha being shot in Batman #232, the famous story that introduced Ra’s Al Ghul. Eventually, it was decided that the Golden Age Batman of Earth-2 had the heart attack version of Martha’s death in his origin story, while the Earth-1 Batman had the double shooting. All of this was around a decade before Miller worked on Batman.

* Another curious late-1940s change of this sort was the origin of Solomon Grundy. Starting with 1947’s All-Star Comics #33, recaps of his origin omit the stuff about Cyrus Gold’s corpse being in the mix and instead claimt hat Grundy was just swamp matter somehow brought to life by sunlight. This retcon lasted all the way until the first Grundy story was reprinted in the Wanted: The World’s Most Dangerous Villains series in the mid-1970s. Afterwards, Gerry Conway did a Superman story introducing an Earth-1 Grundy who had a variant of the bowdlerized origin.

I loved how the Untold Legend of the Batman used this same origin, even using the same panel layouts for most of it. Highly effective stuff.

Thanks a lot Omar, really interesting stuff! So the Comics Code back in the 1940s didn’t allow comics to show women being murdered on-panel?

Also, that Solomon Grundy change you mentioned reminds me of the famous Swamp Thing retcon that Alan Moore did

I love this story. Like Jacob T. Levy, I read it first as a kid and it really stayed with me. The G.A. Batman stories are so creepy.

Also, the thing that jumps out at me after this reading is that Batman has great hand-writing. I guess that we should have suspected that, but still …

Damning with faint praise, are we Brian?

Ha!

Yeah, I know it sort of reads like that, but I honestly just think the idea sounds SO familiar that I find it hard to believe that it wasn’t uses somewhere earlier. I tried to mitigate a bit by noting that it’s still a good story even if he DID lift the basic idea (and since we know that Finger DID specifically lift at least one early Batman tale from the pulps, it wouldn’t exactly be surprising, ya know?).

nice pick for always remembered how chilling a young bruce’s eyes are memorizing joe chill. and interesting that the comic code made Martha die differantly . and the thing was recreated for brave and the bold that also featured the Spectre and the Phantom Stranger.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm

There was no Comics Code in the 1940s, but there were editors who were very conscious that a public backlash might occur if little kids were reading such gruesome stuff. (The average age of a comics reader then was around 8.)

The Code was something the industry put together to fight a moral panic in the 1950s caused by the scaremongering by Frederic Wertham and others. The moral panic led to an actual Congressional inquiry, and the comics publishers banded together, creating the Comics Code Authority in order to avoid possible government censorship and to drive industry scapegoats EC out of the comics business.

Zor-El of Argo

June 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Whether Martha was shot or had a heart attack, the bit with Bruce’s eyes “Quit looking at me!” was a mainstay I think well into the ’80’s. Is Millar the first one to leave that out?

Travis Pelkie

June 27, 2010 at 1:15 am

While there wasn’t the code, there were notions by the publishers (DC/National especially) that they had to appear wholesome. I believe, if things I’ve read in more recent years are accurate, that WW’s creator Marston was first associated with DC/National as a “respected authority” who validated the material DC was putting out, then decided to try his hand at it himself (I may have the timeline off, forgive me).

Can’t remember where, but I did read before that the Martha Wayne heart attack was a more primal version of the origin — and as I was typing, I remember it was from Morrison’s note in the back of the Arkham Asylum trade.

The Moxon stuff added on later seems to layer on too much, but that story did provide the “Thomas Wayne was in the original Batman costume” motif, which was, what, half of RIP?

Let me suggest that the Joe Chill in Hell story in 673 may not be “the truth”, as, iirc, Bruce is in the throes of his heart attack and has been captured by the Anti-Christ Batman. My read on that issue is that the revenge on Joe Chill is the part of Batman that got “eliminated” in the Thogal ritual, that it was a fantasy that Bruce had for years, to find who killed his parents and get vengeance on him, and force the killer to take his own life. That seems to be why Bruce makes such a big issue about not using a gun in subsequent issues. Of course, I’m behind on my Batman and Robin and Return of Bruce Wayne reading, so this might have been addressed already.

Let me defend Bill Finger by saying that the ending might be obvious to us reading it, but Batman came in after the thugs had shot Chill, so he didn’t necessarily realize that Chill was killed for creating Batman. Batman would have figured it out, probably, but it gives Chill that “I guess you got me…after all” panel. On the other hand, didn’t Bill Finger write the script for the movie Track of the Moon Beast, featured on MST3K? So maybe I shouldn’t defend him. (Ah, I won’t be too hard on the guy. He’d co-created one of the greatest fictional characters ever, and didn’t get any credit, so the guy had to eat, even if it was scripting a terrible movie.)

An excellent write-up on one of the all-time best Batman stories. The piercing eyes, the vow in the dark graveyard, Batman’s emotion overruling his usual rationality in the unmasking scene (one of the great pages in comics history, if you ask me),and the intensity of the whole story, which is reminiscent of many a Dick Tracy sequence.

One part of this story that seems familiar is the criminal pursued by fellow criminals because his crime causes them problems, which was used notably in Fritz Lang’s movie, M, starring Peter Lorre as a child-killer who. winds up the quarry of both cops and the underworld.

And Joe’s seeming reiteration of what happened to him seems more like the epiphany of a guy who’d never had one before. Maybe his amazement at what happened is less clumsy storytelling than insightful characterization.

Also, has any writer since followed up on the fact that, even though the thugs kill Joe Chill (Perfect name!), They might still have been able to figure out Batman’s identity from knowing that his parents had been murdered by Chill and that they could have checked into murders of husbands and wives from X number of years before, etcetera? Might have been too much to expect from Gotham City’s lowlives.

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