Tales from the Calendar: Batman 26

Each month I'll be writing about the comic behind the cover featured that month in the 2018 Vintage DC Comics Calendar from Asgard Press.  This month, it's Batman 26, a cover drawn by the legendary Jerry Robinson (who also drew one of the issue's stories), which is featured in the calendar's January 2018 page.

Batman 26 is cover-dated December, 1944-January, 1945.  It's a pretty joyous cover given that during those months, the Allies and Japan were fighting a bitter island-hopping campaign in the Philippines while in Europe the Battle of the Bulge was fought, featuring the 101st Airborne Division being surrounded by the Germans at Bastogne and Third Army marching full speed for two days through the snow to break through German lines and open Bastogne back up.  The soldiers and Marines freezing in the Ardennes or sweating in the Philippines would have probably enjoyed taking Alfred's place on the back of the Bat-sled.

As was customary at the time, Batman featured three stories starring Batman and Robin and one spotlighting the misadventures of Alfred.  The first splash page of the issue has Bob Kane's signature on it, but he did not do any of the art on the issue (in fact, he infrequently handled art chores himself by this point in Batman's publishing history).

The Cavalier was usually not this tall.
The first story, "Twenty Ton Robbery", was written by Don Cameron and drawn by the legendary Dick Sprang.  It featured the fourth and final Golden Age appearance of The Cavalier, a villain created by Cameron and Bob Kane a year prior.  The Cavalier, as silly as he may appear to modern audiences, was actually set up as a sort of mirror of Batman much like Hush is these days. Mortimer Drake was a gifted playboy who traveled in Bruce Wayne's social circles who took a ludicrous costumed musketeer guise partly to steal artifacts he couldn't buy and partly to relieve his own boredom and stoke his own ego.  Armed with an electric sword and a very clever mind, he was one of the few villains to repeatedly escape capture by Batman and Robin, though in their third joust, the dynamic duo were able to suss out his secret identity, putting the Cavalier on the run, his fortune lost to him.

Against this backdrop, the Cavalier enters his fourth appearance in disguise.  Challenged by prospective henchmen to go after more than just the trinkets he was known to target, he cooks up a plan to kidnap a live whale, because logic.  He actually almost gets away with it, abducting Robin and setting Batman up in a death trap (which was not as common an occurrence then as it soon would be).  However, it's hard to hide purchases of enough fish to keep a captive whale alive, and in the end the Cavalier was captured.  He would not appear again until the 70s.

It's a complete trifle of a story, but look at the breaking of
gutters, which was not all that common at the time.
The second story of the issue features another chapter in "The Adventures of Alfred", "Recipe for Revenge".  Unlike the modern version of the character, who serves as Batman's field medic, weapons tech, combat driver, remote operator, disapproving caregiver, and conscience, the Golden Age Alfred was typically portrayed as a bit of a good-hearted bumbler.  His solo adventures typically took the form of a farce.  Alfred would venture out into the world either in hopes of honing his relatively pitiful detective skills or otherwise doing something for the Wayne household.  He'd stumble into a situation calling for heroism and/or a keen detective mind.  He'd then proceed to do everything wrong, yet would solve the case/catch the criminal by pure accident.

"Recipe for Revenge" is no exception to this format.  Out shopping for a gala feast for the overworked Dynamic Duo, Alfred finds his wallet missing and chases down the presumed thief.  His suspect is not who Alfred believes him to be, and Alfred ends up preventing a murder and acquires a master chef to cook a fabulous meal for the Wayne household.  "Recipe" was written by Jack Schiff, who created Starman and the Bat-Signal (he had a thing for light, apparently) and edited many of the Golden Age Batman books, and illustrated by Jerry Robinson, who co-created Alfred (as well as half of the Batman mythos).  You might recall Jack Schiff's name from the PSA contained in last month's comic, Adventure Comics 207.  You'll probably see his name again.

Preach!  Also, at some point in time, Marge Simpson
became the common ancestor of most Earthlings.
The third story, written by Joseph Greene (a DC writer who wrote for most of their major titles during the Golden Age and later a science fiction author best known for inventing Tom Corbett, Space Cadet) and illustrated by Dick Sprang, has an odd place in Batman history.  "The Year 3000!" sees a peaceful Earth suddenly invaded by a ruthless warlord from Saturn who sends any survivors of the invasion to concentration camps.  Two Earthlings still free, Brane and his ward Ricky, stumble upon a time capsule from the 1939 World's Fair that contains microfilm that includes descriptions of the work of patriots from the American Revolution and the exploits of Batman and Robin.  Brane inspires a resistance using the story of the Revolutionaries, then he and Ricky don Batman and Robin costumes to take the fight directly to the invaders, first overthrowing their grip on Earth and then invading Saturn itself.  It's quite the rousing tale, with Brane dramatically unmasking for his fellow Earthlings to show that you don't need to be a trained professional fighter to make a difference in the struggle for freedom.  The Saturnian warlord defeated, Brane and Ricky return to their lives, revealing along the way that Brane's is actually Bruce Wayne XX.

Brane would not reappear for several decades, but other stories inspired by the Batman of the Year 3000 would later appear.  Brane Taylor, the Batman from the year 3051, would appear in 1951.  In a 1992 Elseworlds miniseries, Bruce Wayne XX would be killed by other alien invaders, but his son Thomas Wayne would take the mantle of Robin 3000.

Greene situates the blitzkrieg of Earth as happening at exactly 9:12 am on April 19.  I imagine Greene chose that date to reflect events from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as April 19, 1943 was the day the Germans entered the ghetto to begin their final "liquidation" of the Jews there, directly resulting in the deaths of 13,000 Jews and the capture of about 50,000 more who were sent to the concentration camps.  I've not discovered a specific meaning to the 9:12 time, though that might have been the time when the Germans first entered the ghetto.

The 9:00 hour of April 19 would have a bloody run decades later.  At 9:02 am April 19, 1995, a truck packed with over two tons of explosives detonated at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168.  At 9:13 am April 19, 1993, the FBI use a Combat Engineering Vehicle to breach the front door of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, where 76 people would be killed by day's end.  At 9:53 am April 19, 1989, Turret Two of USS Iowa exploded, killing 47 sailors.

Just, no.
The final story of the issue, also by Cameron and Sprang, is not one of the most culturally wise stories to ever be printed in comics.  "Crime Comes to Lost Mesa" sees Batman and Robin following escaped prisoners to where their plane crashed at a Southwestern mesa where one of the prisoners had discovered and subsequently robbed a lost native tribe.  Batman and Robin find themselves up against both the criminals and the duped tribe, but ultimately overcome thanks to the help of a native boy named Nachee.

The story is quite frankly painful to read with modern perspective and sensibilities.  The dialogue reads like a transcript from a Tonto convention, full of awkward "native" wording, frequent references to "palefaces", and the use of "heap" as an adverb.  This kind of cultural hamhandedness was common during the era, and sad to say, this is far from the worst case.

That's it for this month's calendar page.  I'll be back next month with a write-up on the February page.

JL Franke is a fan of both hard science fiction and hard fantasy.  He has been collecting comics for over 40 years and has been an on-and-off active member of online fandom for 25.  Those interested can find other writings at his personal blog, NerdlyManor.com.  When not geeking out, you may find him at a baseball park or cheering on his favorite college and pro football teams.  In his spare time, he is chief scientist for a research and development laboratory somewhere in the Washington, DC greater metropolitan area.

Tales from the Calendar: Batman 26 Tales from the Calendar: Batman 26 Reviewed by JL Franke on Tuesday, January 02, 2018 Rating: 5
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