Hasslein Blog: Matthew Sunrich Presents: Batman #246


Hasslein Blog

Friday, April 19, 2013

Matthew Sunrich Presents: Batman #246

Batman #246
By Matthew Sunrich

Criminals always seem to want to mess with the Batman.

His reputation as a crime-fighter, peerless detective, and guardian of Gotham City makes him the frequent target of oddball schemes, cooked up by criminals with varying agendas, designed to test his patience, resourcefulness, and mettle. As far as crooks are concerned, defeating—or perhaps even killing—the Dark Knight is the ultimate goal, and the more ingenious the means by which they achieve it, the better. Torment him before you deal the killing blow; make him pay for his one-man crusade against Gotham's underworld.

Illustrated by the team of Irv Novick, Dick Dillin, and Dick Giordano, Batman #246 (1972), "How Many Ways Can a Robin Die?" is a full-length tale that sees the Caped Crusader pushed almost to the breaking point by an elusive criminal who clearly understands Batman's capabilities and exploits them for his own purposes.

Our story opens with Batman returning home after the successful completion of a case. He is perplexed by the sudden appearance of the Bat signal, which is originating from somewhere on the other side of the city rather than from police headquarters.

When he arrives at the source, he finds Robin tied to the tower on the top of a high building. As Batman tries to sort the situation out while climbing the ladder to rescue his ward, an arrow flies past him and right into the Boy Wonder's chest. His body plummets to the roof as Batman looks for cover in case the shooter plans to fire again. Tracing the arrow's origin to a vent, he finds that it was activated remotely and investigating Robin's body finds that his captured ally is merely a dummy. A note bound to the arrow's shaft informs the Dark Knight that a similar incident will occur the following evening.

Worried that the real Robin could be mixed up in all of this, Batman rushes to a phone and is dismayed to discover that his landlady has not seen him in twenty-four hours. He proceeds to check around, and finds that none of Dick's friends have seen him lately either. The potential for Robin's actual death has, at this point, become very real, and Batman knows that he must play along with the perpetrator.

Having figured out the location of the next "murder" (thanks to a clue intentionally left by the attacker), Batman takes the Bat copter to a charity event, where the main attraction is a magician who calls himself Chandra (?!) the Magnificent. During his act, he stabs Robin with a sword but manages to elude the Caped Crusader with his conjurer's trickery. It comes as little surprise that this Robin is also a dummy. A note impaled on the sword tells Batman that another such incident will take place the following night.

Again working out the clue, Batman makes his way to the fog-shrouded wharf. He has no sooner arrived than Robin is thrown from the dock with a block of cement tied to his ankles. Batman suspects that it's just another dummy, but he realizes that he can't take that chance. He dives into the water and finds that this Robin is not the real deal, either. This time there is no clue, but assessing the events leads Batman to the right conclusion.

The next night in St. Elmo's graveyard (what is it with Batman and graveyards?), the Caped Crusader finds an open mausoleum, wherein another Robin effigy has been hanged. A barred door slams behind him as he studies the dummy, and by now, our hero has reached his wit's end. He manages to escape and, suspecting a connection between all of the "murders," calls the warden of Gotham State Prison. It turns out that a mass murderer that Batman sent "up the river" was recently released on a technicality, and Batman knows that he must be the one behind all of this.

The Dark Knight determines that the killer, Emil Ravek, has returned to the location of his final crime before going to the slammer, the Waxworks Murder Museum, fittingly enough. This time, he has the real Robin bound and drugged and plans to behead him with the guillotine. (Why a real working guillotine would be in a wax museum is beyond me.) Batman pleads with the killer to revenge himself upon him rather than Robin, but Ravek explains that he'd rather see Batman suffer by witnessing his partner slain. Batman hurls a metal tray to stop the blade's descent, but the criminal madman, undeterred, grabs an executioner's axe from an exhibit with which to do the deed. Too slow to match the reflexes of his foe, however, Ravek falls onto the scales of a giant statue of Lady Justice, defeated.

Everything about this issue fits the idiom of Bronze-Age Batman perfectly. The artwork is dynamic, and there is an almost palpable air of mystery and menace permeating each page. I found the inclusion of the magician and the wax museum to be particularly effective, as, from a metaphorical standpoint, both involve illusion. Moreover, the "swords through the box" trick that Ravek performs on stage at the charity event perfectly parallels the coda of the story, which occurs in what is essentially a chamber of horrors.

Ravek himself is actually a fairly terrifying antagonist. When Batman finally confronts him at the museum, he is clad in executioner's garb, and his hooded visage is frightening to behold. As I have pointed out before, Batman's rogues' gallery had not been "introduced" at this juncture, and villains, interesting though they might be, typically only lasted one issue (Dr. Darkk, original leader of the League of Assassins, being a notable exception).

As we have seen, Robin was not "eliminated" during the Bronze Age; he and Batman were merely separated for the most part, which allowed Batman to become a "darker" character and, at the same time, to give Dick an opportunity to make his own way in the world, to find his own identity (which he eventually did). In this issue, they don't work as a team, and Robin is really little more than a plot device, which, as a non-fan of the Boy Wonder, suits me just fine.

The cover, by Dick Giodano (frequently misattributed to Neal Adams), is extremely effective, and I have no doubt that this comic flew off the racks. I'm sure that no one honestly believed that Robin perished in the issue, but an illustration like this one is always irresistible.

Definitely a cool issue.

Again, as if often the case with Bronze-Age books, a copy of the original will set you back a pretty penny (unless you get lucky in an eBay auction like I did), but you can find the story reprinted in Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told volume 2 and Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder volume 1. 

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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At April 19, 2013 at 7:29 AM , Blogger Hunter said...

This issue was one of the, if not THE, very first issues of BATMAN I read. I was a Superman fan, and only knew of Batman via the 1966 TV show, but this cover intrigued me. Of course, I didn't keep it....



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