Bizarro Back Issues: Batman And The Challenge Of The Consumer Crusader! (1971)
Despite every attempt I've made to stop it, there's still a discussion that crops up every now and then about Batman's methods. There are people out there, people that I will never understand, who for some reason think it would make for a better story if Batman gave all of his money to charity instead of spending it on bat-shaped airplanes and rocket cars, as though there are problems that can't be solved by owning a bat-shaped airplane.
But even though I definitely don't agree, I will concede that the Dark Knight's crimefighting methods are occasionally a little dubious. Like, say, that time that Batman investigated an attempted murder by pretending to be a ghost and then yelling at someone about a bad review in the latest issue of Consumer Reports. That one was pretty weird, even if it's hard to argue with the results.
The story in question is "Challenge of the Consumer Crusader," brought to you by the art team of Bob Brown and Dick Giordano and the supremely underrated Frank Robbins in the pages of Detective Comics #415 --- and brought to my attention by long-time reader Brad Reed, who promised psychedelic lights and a mattress testing machine used as a deathtrap, which is exactly the phrase that will make me read a comic immediately. And it lives up to the promise.
And just to give you an idea of exactly how weird it is, we open up on page one with a pair of hitmen attempting to murder their target by ambushing him and throwing him into a garbage truck:
Now, I'll admit that I've lived in a small town in the south for most of my life, so this is a legitimate question that I'm asking you: Do garbage trucks in big cities come equipped with giant spiked rolling pins that can chew up a rocking chair? I mean, I know some of them have those compactor things on there, but this is like something that would be protecting magic treasure in a lich king's lair, so I'm pretty sure that this might just be a Gotham thing. You have to think that by the early '70s, there were so many left-over deathtrap parts confiscated by the city that they'd put them to some kind of good use, right?
Anyway, the murder by garbage truck rolling pin is cut short when Batman arrives to kick the hitmen in the face, along with the reveal that he waited until they were about to throw their victim into the trash compactor even though he realized they were contract killers long before. The reason he knew? He saw their shiny expensive shoes underneath their coveralls --- and he saw them from a rooftop. The man has skills.
The thing is, Batman decides not to bring the hitmen in himself. He literally just calls the cops and tells them that Jo-Jo Weems and Tag Callum --- the latest two entries in a long line of amazing names that Robbins has given to minor characters --- are in town and that the GCPD should probably be on the lookout. He himself is far too distracted by the would-be garbage pancake that he just rescued: Tom Carson, Consumer Crusader!
Okay, first of all, Batman, your best friend is Superman, a literal flying space alien who can bench press a battleship. Is the dude who writes about faulty microwaves really going to be the celebrity meeting that gets you to let out a full-on Ric Flair "whoooo?" Really? I'm not even sure I'd want Batman doing that if he met actual Ric Flair.
Anyway, since Carson has made a career of calling out companies for their faulty products, it's not hard to figure out that he's earned himself quite an enemies list in the process. It stands to reason, then, that the most likely culprit behind the assassination attempt is the guy behind the next product on the chopping block: Ben Ames, whose nonsensical "microwave anti-pollution device" is slated for a "torture test" at Carson's company this week.
And sure enough, that's who ordered the hit. When Batman heads over to the Ames estate, he finds that the businessman is up late waiting on a phone call. Not exactly a smoking gun --- I stay up late every now and then myself --- but after Batman himself calls him from the "radio-telephone and tape recorder call-monitor" in Ames's car, Ames admits that he's he one who ordered the hit.
So! For those of you keeping track at home, that's motive, method, opportunity, two hitmen that will (probably) be arrested soon and a recorded confession. That's that, right? No other investigation needed. Put a bow on this one.
For reasons I do not quite understand, Batman decides that he needs to investigate a little more, and for reasons I will never understand, he also decides that just showing up as Batman, this grim avenger, this weird figure of the night who was specifically designed to terrify criminals, just isn't scary enough. So naturally, he decides to put on Carson's clothes, slather himself in florescent paint, and hang himself outside Ames's window. You know, like you do.
But it's a good thing he did. When confronted with a full-on haint, Ames reveals that he wasn't worried about a flawed product. Instead, he was being blackmailed by Carson with the threat of a false report.
Or was he?!
If Carson was really the man behind the blackmail, then he probably wouldn't have pointed Batman in the direction of Ames, since he'd know that it would all come out. So, in the final twist of the story, it turns out that it wasn't Carson, it was one of his "Consumer Crusaders." And, shockingly enough, it's a gal!
I feel like that's an unnecessary emphasis there, Bats.
The gal in question is one Joan Wilde, who's in charge of the lab where they test all manner of products by putting them through what is essentially a series of deathtraps that may have been too outlandish for Batman '66, and as you might expect, it makes for a pretty fantastic set piece. First, he finds himself dealing with an array of psychedelic lights --- which I assume are for testing I don't know, blacklight posters? --- but then, it gets way better.
Before long, though, Batman gets the upper hand himself, bashing a crook into a control panel and setting off a bunch of machines that the crooks very obligingly walk directly into:
But Joan herself manages to escape through a side door and into a car. And again --- Batman has a car. He has the best car. It has nuclear rockets. But instead of using that, Batman just hops into the nearest available automobile, and finds himself trapped in a "test car" that's raised up and dropped onto a target to simulate a head-on collision.
And that, friends and neighbors, is where we get what might be the most ridiculous moment of the entire story, when we find out how Batman survived. See, he didn't jump out of the car. He did a backflip inside the car.
And that's pretty much that. Oh, except that Batman also apparently decides to let Ames off the hook for hiring two hitmen to to throw a man into a garbage truck where he'll be mulched alive, because it turns out he was just a good dude who wanted to use microwaves to stop pollution. So if you were wondering how to get away with (attempted) murder in Gotham City, that's pretty much it.