The first issue of Batman’s own book (Spring 1940) was largely made up of inventory for Detective Comics. In fact, the cover of the issue of Detective that came out the same month corresponds to the final story in this book. Curiously, this was one of the earliest Batman comics I ever read – though in the oversized reprint from the 70s.
The book opens with a two-page origin of Batman, re-printed from Detective 33 – although the looming figure of Batman on the first page was taken from the splash page of Detective 34.
The Joker makes his big debut in the first story in the issue. A clown faced killer, the Joker is so confident that he announces his murders over the radio before committing them.
Many attributes of the character are there right from the start: the death grin, the playing card, and the elaborate lair. In fact, the Joker had this even before Batman had a proper Batcave. One of the odder elements in this story is that Batman allows the Joker to get away with a number of murders before going into action, saying the “time is not right.” Bruce Wayne seems to be fine with the Joker killing prominent citizens, and it’s only when he goes after a gangland figure that Batman springs into action.
Finger and Kane crafted this story, and it still stands up for its creepiness. They are the creative team on every story in this book.
The Joker does not come off as much of a hand to hand combatant, and Batman doesn’t find it that difficult to defeat him in this first tale.
The Joker returns in the last story in the book.
The Hugo Strange story in this issue pre-dates the debut of Robin – the logo gives this away. As well, the final panel of the Batman story in Detective 37, the issue right before Robin’s debut, is a promo for this story, which sees Hugo Strange return, turning men into gigantic monsters.
Strange gets far less play in this tale than his monsters, but that’s fine. The story looks much like a horror film, and the early Batplane does nothing to decrease this.
Perhaps it’s just because this was the first Hugo Strange story that I read, but I find it the best of his Golden Age appearances.
Batman machine guns the truck full of monsters that Strange is sending into the city, killing not only the deadly creatures, but also the drivers.
The climax of the story reinforces the degree to which this feels like a horror film, being clearly inspired by King Kong.
Hugo Strange returns in a couple of months in Detective Comics.
The issue also has a one page feature on Bob Kane.
Catwoman, or the Cat as she is called in this story, debuts in a tale that gives Robin a lot to do, as he goes undercover as a waiter on a cruise ship.
There is a jewel theft plot, wound up in a mystery, as Robin tries to figure out which of the shady characters on the ship is really the Cat.
A fake fire alarm gives the game away, when a supposedly elderly lady flees at top speed, revealing some shapely legs. Batman unmasks the young woman, and retrieves the stolen gem.
The story ends with the first hint of the romance between the character, as Batman allows Catwoman to escape, blocking Robin from stopping her. Batman ends the story by musing over Catwoman, although he does make reference to Julie Madison as well.
Catwoman returns in the next issue.
The Joker returns in the final story in the issue, escaping from prison and making the first of many, many, many attempts to kill Robin.
The Joker shows off his skills as a chemist in this tale, concocting a version of his Joker toxin that he plants on playing cards.
The Joker winds up getting stabbed with his own knife at the climax of the story, and is pronounced bead – until the final panel, which reveals that he survived. So right from the get-go, the Joker had the quality of appearing to die, but not.
The Joker returns in the next issue.