Bizarro Back Issues: Batman Gives Lonely Men a Good Christmas (1943)
Over the past 70 years, Batman has been involved in a lot of Christmas stories, and with good reason. More than any other character, Batman fits right into the role of Santa Claus: He travels by night, he's dedicated to giving people nicer childhoods than he had, and he has the resources to offer people pretty much whatever they want for Christmas. Admittedly, his Yuletide adventures seem to be geared less towards giving presents to the nice than dealing out compound fractures to the naughty, but the potential is there.
And that's exactly what happened in the Golden Age, when Batman and Robin decided to play Santa (and Santa's orphaned circus acrobat sidekick, one assumes) to "The Loneliest Men In the World!"Originally released in 1943, this is one of the few Batman stories credited to Bob Kane that he actually drew, with additional art by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos and a script by Don Cameron. My copy of the story comes from a reprint in Batman #239, but it's worth noting that it ran in Batman #15, a comic that has the distinction of having a cover where Batman, who at this time was a couple of years into his solemn vow against using firearms -- is just having a blast mowing down the enemies of America with a machine gun:
And the fact that the cover was not the weirdest thing about this comic should give you an idea of the kind of territory we're heading into.
As our story begins, Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward Dick Grayson are out on the town doing some shopping on a surprisingly crime-free Christmas Eve in Gotham City. This is an element of Golden and Silver Age stories that I love: the idea that super-heroes are so good at fighting crime that they've got a ton of free time to just wander around doing normal things like Christmas shopping -- or in Superman's case, playing pranks on Jimmy Olsen or writing a giant metal diary in a language that only three people in the universe can read.
Even in the absence of crime, though, there's still a problem that Batman can solve:
See, this is what I've been trying to tell people: There is nothing, not even the utterly abysmal "Christmas Shoes," (NSFW audio) that cannot be improved by the addition of Batman.
But for the Dynamic Duo, even an act of kindness so profound that it warrants both a "gee whillikins" and a "golly jimminy" just isn't enough. They decide that in the spirit of peace and goodwill, they're going to spend their Christmas eve bringing some holiday cheer to someone who doesn't have any.
Now, far be it from me to second-guess the caped crusader, but if I was going to pick a group of people who didn't often have nice Christmases that Batman and Robin would feel sympathy for, I'd probably go with, you know, orphans. But that's not what happens here. Instead, in a bit of subtext that might as well have been a Christmas present to Dr. Wertham, Batman elects to bring some good times to "the loneliest men in the world."
The best part of this, narrowly edging out Batman slapping an entire tree onto the Batplane in an effort to make it a little more festive, is that when Robin suggests seeing the loneliest men in the world, it is exactly what Batman was hoping he'd say. Those two understand each other in a way that we non-vigilantes never will.
As they head out through the skies over Gotham, they decide to drop in and wish a Merry Christmas to Commissioner Gordon, who's working late on Christmas Eve because he's apparently the only cop in Gotham City who can let a small-time holdup man out of jail for lack of evidence.
The crook in question is one Dirk Dagner, and he stays in the room as Batman not only tells Commissioner Gordon about his plan to bring some cheer into the lives of lonely men, but also exactly where he's going and when he will be there.
Obviously, this is going to cause some complications, but Batman just chats about his plans for the evening like the guy isn't there. Why? Because Batman doesn't give a damn. It's seriously like he's daring him to make a move, and Dagner wastes no time in accepting the challenge:
Interestingly enough, despite Dirk telling Commissioner Gordon that his fondest Christmas wish was for Batman and Robin to be murdered, his initial plan doesn't involve killing them at all. Instead, he tells his surprisingly fastidious gang that he wants to humiliate Batman by making him look like a sap.
Son, that dude is flying around Gotham City in an airplane with a tree on it, accompanied by a young boy in green pixie boots. What exactly are you going to do to make him look sillier?
Anyway, while Dirk is plotting Batman's off to the first stop on the Lonely This Christmas Tour '43: The hoity-toity Crane Club to throw some cheer at doorman Ben Botts!
Personally, I'm pretty interested in the fact that Ol' Ben Botts is about halfway through changing into He-Man before he realizes Batman and Robin are there to do something nice for him.
Of course, the nice thing turns out to be a pretty strange attempt at making spirits bright: Batman and Robin give him a few presents and then lead him into the club so that he can hang out with all those rich folks that he was just expressing profound resentment for, with Batman even going as far as telling everyone they need to pay attention to him. That certainly doesn't sound like a pretty uncomfortable time, and as though that wasn't enough, the lack of an experienced doorman allows a gang of thieves to bust in and start robbing everyone. Great job, Caped Crusader!
The robbers are, of course, Dirk Dagner's gang, and while you'd think his gang of career criminals would realize the inherent problem in a plan like "let's humiliate Batman by robbing a place where Batman is," they go for it anyway. And for his trouble, Dirk gets slapped in the head with a chicken.
Not exactly what they were going for, but hey, at least somebody got humiliated. So humiliated, in fact, that Batman doesn't bother to actually chase them down when they scram. Surely that won't come back to haunt him.
Either way, it's on to the next Lonely Man on Batman's list: Link Chesney, who, despite his job as a humorist, is bitter and resentful, even towards his readers:
As something of a humorist myself, I can confirm that this is a 100% accurate portrayal of my profession.
Anyway, as you might expect, Dirk and the Dagners bust in to ruin everything. They club Batman over the head and place the Dynamic Duo plus Link into a sinister deathtrap. I gotta say, I realize that this is still relatively early in Batman's long proud career of dealing with sinister deathtraps, but Dirk just flat-out drops the ball here.
Seriously, look at this setup:
As near as I can figure, the idea is that Link will fall down and pull the rope in order to choke Batman and Robin, but Dirk -- and Bob Kane -- apparently didn't realize that he could just, you know, step forward instead. Even with the non-Euclidean geometry of Link's floor, moving two feet forward instead of forcing yourself to drop backwards like you're doing a trust fall doesn't seem to be all that big of a problem.
And yet, here we are. Dirk congratulates himself on concocting such a fiendish machination and heads out to Batman's third stop, planning on murdering the lighthouse keeper of Gotham's Pirate Reef just to be a dick. Of course, once he's out of sight, Batman's free to plan his daring escape:
Thank goodness the Dark Knight took up Pilates.
Once he's free, he heads out to stop Dirk from delivering a Christmas gift of murrrrrrrrder to lighthouse keeper Tom Wick, but not before he gives Chesney his Christmas present:
Yes, as it turns out, all he wanted was for people to constantly tell him how much they liked him. Again: 100% accurate. Of course, what you don't see is that shortly after they get through wishing him a Merry Christmas, the rest of his fans call up to "helpfully" let him know which items he "forgot" on his latest amusing top ten list.
At this point, the story plays out about like you'd expect, almost as though the creators involved were getting bored of it by the time they had to introduce yet another Lonely Man. Batman makes it to the lighthouse in time to save him, gives him the imaginative gifts of a radio and a couple of books, and then beating the living crap out of Dirk and his gang.
And then, at long last, we get our moral:
Because really, screw forgiveness, some people are just "wild beasts to be kept caged," and we should all just gloat about how hilarious it is that they will eventually die alone and unmourned. Isn't that... the true meaning of Christmas?
Well, no, not really. But you try telling that to Golden Age Batman.