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Welcome to the four hundred and eighty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and eighty-three. It’s an all-Batman legends edition of Comic Book Legends Revealed this week! First off, was the first Batman comic book story seriously taken from a Shadow story? Did Bob Kane actually draw Batman’s confrontation with Joe Chill? And did the producers of Batman Forever fire Robin Williams from the film?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: The first Batman story was a re-working of a then-recent Shadow story.
As I have pointed out in the past in Comic Book Legends Revealed, Bob Kane, co-creator of Batman, famously (infamously?) swiped from a couple of different artists for the art on the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. However, interestingly enough, while the artist on that first story (“The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”) was swiping from his peers, so, too, was the WRITER of that story, Bill Finger!
Bill Finger was a big fan of the Shadow and in the past he made some references to the fact that his first Batman script was a “take-off on a Shadow story.” It was not until less than ten years ago, however, when historians Will Murray and Anthony Anthony Tollin actually discovered the story in question!
It was called “Partners of Peril” from the November 1936 edition of The Shadow magazine.
It was written by Theodore Tinsley, the second-most prolific Shadow writer of the 1930s (after The Shaow’s creator, Walter Gibson – both men used the Maxwell Grant pseudonym).
Kent C. Hare boiled down the comparisons really well in a piece on the story here:
Partners in an industrial chemical manufacturing plant seal a secret deal to allow one of them to buy the others out. One – then a second – is murdered! Safes are broken into in search of unknown documents. A mysterious black-cloaked figure contronts a perpetrator on a rooftop above one of the crime-scenes. In a climax, one of the business partners is trapped beneath a clear glass dome to be gassed to death – but the black-cloaked crimefighter saves him by jumping under the dome with him and stuffing cloth into the gas tube to block the poison’s entry. It turns out that the mastermind of the murders was the partner who was already buying his fellows’ interest out – but who would rather have the business scott free and not pay up!
That is an accurate description of both stories, which is hilarious.
Here are two snippets of the story, plus scenes from the Batman story…
MERRIWEATHER stepped back. Surprisingly, every word he uttered was distinct to the two trussed men inside the glass prison. A cleverly concealed amplifier of great volume carried his voice to the doomed men. “There are four gas vents scattered over the ceiling in this death room. To-night, only one will be used – the aperture in the hollow pipe that leads into your prison. When I release the second trigger, poison gas will flow steadily into your amusing little cheese jar – and you’ll know exactly how your friend Reed Harrington died!”
And from the conclusion…
“Yes. But, first, I want you to look at this agreement that was taken from the safe of Simon Todd. Not from the safe in his office which was vainly attacked by Blink Dorgan. This document came from Todd’s strong box in his mansion out in the hills. It was found by – by the man who solved this case.” He ignored the chief’s eager question. From the desk in front of him, piled high with papers strewn alongside an opened briefcase, he selected a typewritten sheet of legal cap and handed it to the police official. The latter read it with absorbed interest. It was a cleverly worded agreement drawn up by Simon Todd, and signed by himself and his former partners in the chemical corporation. It read as follows:
1. At the request of my three associates in the ownership of the Millcote Chemical Corporation, who wish to withdraw from said ownership because of executive differences in policy, the following agreement is signed, witnessed and executed.
2. I, Simon Todd, agree to buy sole ownership of the business; and Reed Harrington, Thomas Porter, and Arnold Kling agree to sell such ownership for the stipulated price of three million dollars.
3. I, Simon Todd, agree to pay annually to each of my former associates the sum of $100,000 for a term of ten years. At the end of ten years the ownership of the Millcote Chemical Corporation is to be mine and mine alone.
4. The heirs of Harrington, Porter and Kling are specifically barred from this agreement. In case of the death of one of the above mentioned associates, his share will be divided equally among the other two survivors. In no event shall less than three million dollars be paid by me.
5. This will constitute acceptance of this contract and a receipt for the first annual payment of $300,000 divided equally among the associates above mentioned.
The document was signed by four names: Reed Harrington, Arnold Kling, Thomas Porter and Simon Todd. Below was the name of the witness, Claude Merriweather. The chief of police uttered a quick exclamation. “In other words, Todd had obligated himself to the extent of three million dollars and would not have complete control of the company for at least ten years.” “That is correct,” Cardona assented.
JOE explained further. Todd had no intention of discharging his debt. His aim was to seize control of the valuable corporation by killing his associates. That was why he had excluded their heirs from the contract of sale, and had worded it in such a way that, apparently, he had nothing to gain from a sudden death among the doomed men.
Jerry Robinson later theorized that the young Finger was “struggling to shift from humor to adventure strips,” hence his use of the prior story as a bit of a crutch.
Thanks to Will Murray and Anthony Tollin for this awesome discovery!
Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed at Spinoff Online: Did Robin Williams ad-lib so much in Aladdin that the film was no longer eligible for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar?
On the next page, did Bob Kane really draw “The Origin of Batman”?
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