Detective Comics #627 (March, 1991)
“The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”
“The Cry of Night is– ‘Kill!'”
“The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”
“The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”
Writers – Bill Finger, Mike Friedrich, Marv Wolfman & Alan Grant
Pencillers – Bob Kane, Bob Brown, Jim Aparo & Norm Breyfogle
Inkers – Bob Kane, Joe Giella, Mike DeCarlo & Steve Mitchell
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Letterera – John Costanza & Todd Klein
Assistant Editor – Kelley Puckett
Editor – Denny O’Neil
Cover Price: $2.95
Heyyy, it’s DAY SIX-HUNDRED!
Whenever I get to one of these milestone posts, I worry about what book to cover. I mean, should I play it cool, like it’s no biggie and just look at any random thing? Should I be clever and cover a book from the Milestone imprint? Or… should I go “all-out” and cover something over-large and monumental?
It’s usually gonna be that last one. Today we’re going to discuss Batman’s six-hundredth issue of Detective Comics, which is special for a number of reasons. Not just is it for the “milestone” aspect… but it’s for its inclusion of the very first Bat-Man story. Given my reviewer-rules this is almost certainly the only way we’ll ever discuss that story here… so I’m pretty psyched!
This is gonna be a long one… so, I’ll end this pre-ramble here. My normal milestone mushiness will follow the “review” portion.
Our first story is… heyyy, the first story! Young Socialite Bruce Wayne is visiting with his friend Police Commissioner Gordon. Their cigar-and-pipe appreciation society is interrupted by a phone call. It turns out that Lambert, the Chemical King was murdered… stabbed to death! The most likely suspect is… Lambert’s son, Young Lambert! Gordon invites Mr. Wayne along to lookie-loo.
The young fella swears he didn’t do it. When he arrived home he found his father, stabbed… and his safe open! Old Master Lambert’s final words were about a contract. When asked if Lambert had any enemies, Young Lambert offers up his three former business partners, Steven Crane, Paul Rogers, and Alfred Stryker. The questioning session is interrupted by another phone call. Hey, it’s Steve Crane who needed to talk with Lambert… and now needs to speak to the Commish. At this point a bored Bruce Wayne informs Gordon that he’ll be retiring for the evening.
At that very moment, Steve Crane is attacked… and shot in his home. A pair of murderers/crooks attempt to flee with the contract they had stolen. Unfortunately for them… they run into the Batman… er, make that the Bat hyphen Man. Commissioner Gordon arrives a few moments too late, and learns of Crane’s passing from the butler. That’s two of the four business-partners toes up!
Batman reads the recovered contract, and figures it all out. Meanwhile, Paul Rogers learns of the spree and heads over to visit with Stryker. Instead of Stryker, he gets his assistant Mr. Jennings. After inviting Rogers inside, Jennings wallops him with… I dunno, a blackjack? Afterward, he brings him to a… gas chamber! Ay yai yai. Luckily, Bat-Man arrives… stuffs a hankie in the gas jets… and busts the dome with a wrench.
With Rogers saved, Bat-Man spears Jennings and pounds him down. Stryker arrives, and Rogers tells him what his assistant just tried to do. After feigning concern, Stryker decides to try and “finish the job”. Unfortunately for him… Bat-Man is still there!
Bat-Man explains that Stryker was in arrears to the other three partners… and figured if he offed ’em all, he could have full control and zero debt. Stryker attempts to push Bat-Man, and winds up being socked into a tank of acid. Well, let the punishment fit the crime!
The story ends with Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon having a pow-wow. Wayne returns home… and holy cow, we learn that he is in fact… the Bat-Man!
Our second story is… a 30th Anniversary tribute to the story we just read! Batman and Robin are swinging through Gotham… and at that very moment, Commissioner Gordon is at a crime scene questioning a young man about the murder of his father.
The is young Mel Lambert, son of Atomic Chemist old (and currently dead) Mel Lambert. He is the top suspect in the murder… and he’s not terribly pleased by that. Batman and Robin arrive… and we learn that Batman listens to Janis Joplin. Howboutdat?
Turns out that the Lamberts didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Young Mel is a counter-culture sort, who doesn’t dig the system maaaaan. Batman notes that Mel arrived via motorcycle… and asks if he wore his gloves when he came in. He compares traces on the gloves with the murder weapon… a fireplace poker, and deduces there is no match… and no way to prove that young Mel offed his pop. He also uncovers a hidden doorway behind a bookcase… positing that it was likely the real murderer’s escape route.
Robin is really displeased by all of this… he seems to really have it in for young Mel. The Dynamic Duo head back to the Batcave to run some data. They discover that Lambert was part of a Scientific Syndicate… alongside a Steven Crane, Paul Rogers, and Alfred Stryker. They suit up and visit the lab speaking to Mr. Crane, who points back to young Mel as the murderer citing a very heated argument between he and his father in the days leading up.
After the questioning, Batman and Robin prepare to leave. Once they hit the street they hear a gunshot from Crane’s office. They rush back in just in time to see a floppy-haired silhouette holding a contract escaping through the window.
Robin flings a batarang and retrieves the docs, but the baddie gets away. He is positive that it was Mel while Batman still isn’t so convinced. After all, what would Mel want with Crane’s research data?
We shift over to Paul Rogers who is about to visit Alfred Stryker to warn him about Young Lambert. Once inside, he gets konked with the butt of a pistol. When he comes to, he sees his old partner Stryker standing alongside that floppy-haired murderer… but playing it off like he’s being held hostage. At this point, Batman and Robin burst onto the scene.
Before floppy-hair can unload his gun, Robin chop-blocks him at the ankles… while giving Batman perhaps his crappiest nickname yet!
Robin pulls the floppy-haired dude’s mask off revealing a creepy little mustache… it wasn’t Mel Lambert after all! Batman was right… again. Stryker reveals that… a-ha, he was behind the entire thing! He wanted all of the data for himself so he could cash-in. We wrap up with Robin questioning his instincts… knowing he’s got some very hea-vy thinking to do, maaaaaaaan.
Story the third opens with a Iranian Cabbie complaining about his lot in life to his current fare. Back home he was a teacher… while here, all he can do is drive taxi. He doesn’t much matter to the story… just “flavor” I guess. Anyhoo, he sees a strange haz-mat suit wearing individual standing in the street. It’s gun is drawn… and it blasts toxic waste into the cab!
The Iranian believes he was the creep’s target… because, he’s Iranian. Turns out, it was his fare that was the quarry! The toxic blast causes the cab to meld to the victim. A Detective Hanrahan arrives on the scene… Commissioner Gordon is out, having recently suffered a heart attack.
Batman arrives on the scene to check things out. We learn that the dead man was Vice President of CLRS Chemical, Theodore Lambert! We also learn that Theodore’s son “Ted”, was recently protesting his father’s company. Batman decides to use his Bruce Wayne connections to hang out with Ted and see if he can connect any dots.
While the pair play tennis, Hanrahan arrives to deliver the news… and make accusations. Ted is horrified that his father is dead… and while he hated the chemical company, he definitely loved his dad. Hanrahan continues to push, until Wayne tells her to back-off. While this is going down, Steven Crane is holding a press conference.
His speech is interrupted by the arrival of the baddie from before, now going by the clever name, Pesticyde! They bust in on the assembly… and blast Crane (and a woman named Elaine… possibly a partner?) with goop… melting them both together. Deciding that’s not good enough, Pesticyde then unleashes da goop into the crowd… we get a close-up revealing Pesticyde to be a woman.
Moments later, Batman arrives and the two do battle. Pesticyde keeps Batman on the defensive long enough to bore a tunnel into the ground to escape through.
At this point Hanrahan and the GCPD arrive… and she looks like she’s going to be sick. Later, back at the Gotham Police Station she and Batman compare notes. It’s here that we learn of Lambert and Crane’s other two partners… Rogers and Stryker.
Hanrahan decides to first visit with Stryker… who really isn’t up for questioning. Ya see, he’s been rendered somewhat vegetative, and has been that way for two years now. His maid, Mrs. Watkins wheels him in to show the detective. After the officers leave, Stryker’s daughter… a healthy-looking young lady named Prisillla takes her father…
… to a secret lab in the basement where he used to do his chemical research. She recounts the story that led to his being in his current state. While the partners were preparing to dump the waste, some of it splashed onto him. Ever since, Prisilla has planned to see to it that they pay.
Batman runs some data back at the cave… he states that ever since Stryker’s crippling accident, there had been a power struggle in the company… and seems to have a lead on what’s about to go down. Meanwhile, Paul Rogers is talking to the police asking for security to be placed at his home.
His phone chat is interrupted by… Pesticyde! She immediately unmasks revealing herself to be Paul’s own Goddaughter, Prisilla!
She ties Rogers up and places him precariously atop a vat of bubbling acid. Before she can trigger her trap, Batman arrives… and the two fight.
Batman is able to break away long enough to rescue Rogers. The fight resumes with a face-off atop some bubblin’ gunk… and Prisilla firing a blast of corrosive toxins. It misses Batman, and cuts a hole in the bridge, which Prisilla falls through… to her death.
Our final Case of the Chemical Syndicate starts with a hobo drinking a bottle of Breyfogle’s best while thinking to himself how Gotham has a disease. We jump over to Gotham City Chem Co. where a sorta floppy-haired man is fleeing from a night guard… who sounds the alarm.
Commissioner Gordon and Batman both rush to the scene. Inside the offices, the GCPD has the sorta floppy-haired kid cornered… there’s an open safe and… oh yeah, there’s also a dead body in there… any guesses on who that might be? Okay, okay… you know it’s Lambert, I know it’s Lambert… it’s Lambert. And the kid? Young Mel Lambert.
They question Mel as to why he’d been creeping around and he reveals that there had been a bit of a falling out between he and his father… neglecting the fact that he’s carrying an entire brick of cocaine. Batman nyoinks it out of the kid’s pocket and gives it a lick.
Batman was smart to grab the coke… but sadly, he didn’t nab the kids pistol along with it. Mel holds up… the police, which oddly doesn’t get him riddled with holes, but instead with a face-full of powder and a sock to da mush. As Mel is loaded into the back of a cop car, Batman hints at Gordon that the kid didn’t kill Professor Lambert.
They part company with Batman going to check in with Lambert’s three partners. We get another scene with the hobo… who can’t seem to get any help from the police. They think he’s just an old drunk talking nonsense… and I’m not convinced they’re wrong! We shift over to Steven Crane’s home… where he awaits the arrival of Commissioner Gordon. There is a knock at the door… sadly, it ain’t the Commish, instead it’s a pair of nogoodniks! Just as Batman arrives, poor Crane gets his brains blown out.
Batman bursts into the window and makes short work of the geeks. He grabs the gun, and shoves it into one of their mouths looking for answers. They reveal that they were behind the murder of Lambert as well… and were hired to do so by Paul Rogers who told to make it look like a a burglary.
We shift over to Rogers Chemical… which is one of the very few signs in this story that isn’t an homage to a past creator (though, it could’ve been! Marshall Rogers gets his due as a Hotel owner earlier… below I’ll list all of the creator homages). Inside, Paul Rogers is being held at gunpoint by a man in the shadows (any guesses?). He is being forced to write a confession note stating that he ordered the murders of both Lambert and Crane.
We get another scene with the hobo… he gets jumped by some gang-bangers, but Batman arrives in time to save him. At the same time, Gordon and the gang arrive at Rogers Chem and find that Paul has hung himself… conveniently after giving a written confession.
Batman arrives and Gordon gives him the skinny. Batman sees this as being a tad too convenient, and ain’t buying it. He yells out for Alfred Stryker to show himself… and wouldn’tcha know it, a few gunshots ring out from behind the big ol’ chemical vats!
Batman tosses a batarang which Stryker attempts to dodge. Unfortunately for him, the railing he’s leaning on is loose… and he falls into the corrosive gunk. Batman fishes him out… well, his skeleton anyway… and for a moment, we’re back in 1939!
The story (and this over-sized issue) ends with the hobo from earlier recounting a story about the “disease” Gotham has… and how the G.C. Chem. Co. has poisoned the city.
Well, that was one hell of a bite! What a strange project this was… I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and it’s a wonder it isn’t attempted more often. I mean, this is ostensibly the same four stories told in different contextual ways… and it was a lot of fun! Granted, by the time we got to the fourth story it might’ve started to drag, but simply as an undertaking… this was really neat!
I really appreciated the inclusion of that first Bat-Man story… it definitely laid the groundwork for the rest of the book. Also, I feel that placing it at the front of the book was for the best as well. I know sometimes I’ll read a contemporary comic that includes an ancient back-up that may be an earlier story featuring some of the characters/concepts from the “main” story… and I’ll skip it! By putting this in front, it worked so much better, and helped us to see the changes and “up to dating” the subsequent creators/stories made.
Let’s discuss each one… in relatively brief.
The first story is… pretty matter of fact. Beyond it being a hoot to be able to discuss the first appearance of Bat-Man, there isn’t a whole lot to say about it. I will say that it’s interesting how the Bruce Wayne reveal is kept until the last panel. I thought that was a lot of fun. It has been… yeesh, probably twenty-five years since I last read this, as part of the Volume One of Batman DC Archives Edition, so it was really cool to revisit with a more… I dunno, maybe “analytical” eye.
The Friedrich story was pretty good, but might’ve gone a bit too far with Robin having it out for young Lambert. I mean, after the first few times, I think we got the point. I suppose that was to illustrate Batman’s own coolness under pressure, and keeping a level-head when it comes to investigation. Either way, it felt like a bit much. Still enjoyable… and a nice update for the original story.
Marv Wolfman’s story was probably my favorite of the four. It felt less like going through the motions, and actually sought to add a neat twist to the tale that came before. It was certainly the goriest of the stories included here… which, I could take or leave… but I definitely feel it was the most engaging.
The final story was more a love-letter to Batman, the character and creative forces behind him, than anything. It was a very good reimagining of the original story, chock full of nods to the people who’ve breathed life into the character for (at that point) a little over a half-century. The bits with the hobo were a bit out of place… and a few of the scenes did seem disjointed. Gotta say, Breyfogle does a great homage to the Bat-Man who appeared in Detective Comics #27 though! That was a wonderful bit at the end.
Overall, I had more fun with this issue than I thought I would. Really dug the experiment here. Wouldn’t mind seeing this kind of thing happen again somewhere down the line. Just such a neat idea to have the “hot creators” of the day try their hand at retelling a character’s first story. We ain’t talkin’ reboots here… just giving their spin and a nod to where everything started. This issue is available digitally (and needless to say, the first story has been reprinted a whoooole lotta times).
Before I wrap up, it’s time to get a bit mooshy. Six-Hundred Daily Discussions may not be anything to really crow about… but to me it signifies actually “sticking with” something… which has always been one of my bigger challenges. I’ve said it before… I never thought I’d go a week straight, much less the better part of two years!
I’m sincerely thankful for everyone who pops by… reaches out… shares some of these silly words that I write… really, without the engagement of the community, it’s doubtful I would’ve stuck with this. As always, I’m hesitant to name names for fear that I’ll accidentally leave someone out… so, this is a blanket “thank you”.
My main goals in starting this blog were to find the “Two F’s”… (nonono, not fame and fortune…) fun and friends. I’m proud to say I’m pretty sure I’ve found both!
Homage Names (I think I got ’em all):
Mazzuchelli Chemicals ~ Englehart Signs, Inc. ~ Aparo Advertising ~ Breyfogle Red Table Wine ~ Kane Trucking ~ Chan‘s Costumes ~ Austin‘s Art Supply ~ Rogers Hotel ~ Sprang St. ~ Newton Wrestling Champ ~ Sale at Robbins ~ Wein Cola ~ Giordano‘s (Open Early) ~ Adams Ave. ~ Roy’s ~ Kev’s ~ O’Neil Books ~ Miller Road ~ Chemical Analysts by B. Brown ~ The Deal by Friedrich ~ Moldoff ~ Mooney ~ The Art of the Figure by Lopez ~ Neary ~ Burnley ~ Gulacy ~ Political Art by Robinson ~ Davis ~ McKean St. ~ Paris Supply ~ Bolland Art Pens ~ Finger Alley ~ Infantino‘s Gym
(Not the) Letters Page: