The Weirdest Thing in the Batcave: Batman’s Truth Chamber
While it’s hardly the most groundbreaking or notable thing to happen in the issue, one of the scenes that most intrigued me in this week’s Batman and Robin #16 was a page by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham in which the villainous Dr. Hurt lured Batman into a a strange, mirror-lined room in the Batcave. According to Hurt, it’s “an interrogation room where you once terrified your victims into confessing,” and that sounded awfully familiar. So like any Batmanologist worth his cape, I did some research with Michael Fleisher’s encylopedia to find out just what that thing actually was.
And now that I’ve seen the source material, I’m pretty sure that this is the single weirdest thing in the Batcave. And considering it’s only two doors down from a robotic tyrannosaurus, that’s saying something.Like a lot of things in the Morrison run, Batman’s Truth Chamber is a resurrected plot device from the Caped Crusader’s distant past. Specifically, it appears on exactly two pages from the lead story in 1948’s Detective Comics #134, a Penguin caper called “The Umbrellas of Crime.” And fittingly enough for the era, it’s pretty bizarre:
It’s important to note that Batman getting whacked in the head with an actual penguin is probably the least weird thing to happen on these pages.
As you can see, when he’s unable to get a hardened crook to crack and give up the information he needs, Batman drags him back to his anti-crime basement in order to employ some enhanced interrogation techniques, which essentially amount to putting him in a hall of mirrors and shining a flashlight at him.
This, in 1948, was enough to drive a criminal so crazy that he immediately went into the signature Steve Ditko/EC Comics “crazy floating head spiral”:
As near as I can tell, the Truth Chamber wasn’t seen again until this week, and I think there’s a pretty good reason for that. To me, it just seems a little out of character for a good guy like Batman — even one based almost entirely around intimidation and fear — to build a psychological torture chamber underneath his house, complete with a chair the victim gets strapped into so they can’t move. It’s one thing to dangle a bank robber off a building and growl at him until he cracks, but to actually spend time constructing a room meant to drive people insane in a cave? That’s perilously close to straight up ordering to put the lotion on their skin or else they get the hose again.
Even so, I can’t lie: the panel of Batman casually kicking it in a chair that he apparently brought down from the dining room while he harasses Hagen into tipping him off to the shennanigans at the State Fair? That is fantastic.