Batman was forced to use a gun by a surprising villain
Today, we find out about the surprising villain who actually tricked Batman into using a gun.
It’s “Look Back,” where every four weeks of a month, I’ll highlight a single issue of a comic that’s appeared in the past and talk about that issue (often on a larger scale, like the series in as a whole, etc.). Each spotlight will be a preview of a comic from a different year that was released in the same month X years ago. The first spotlight of the month takes a look at a book released this month ten years ago. The second spotlight is on a book released this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight is on a book released this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book released this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we’re looking at weeks in a broad sense, so if a month has five Sundays or five Saturdays, that counts as having a fifth week) look at books from 20/30/40/60/70/ 80 years old.
We go back to January 1947 for a very unusual Batman story called “I, Outlaw” by a mystery writer (Bill Finger, probably) and Jim Mooney of The best comics in the world #27.
HOW BATMAN CAME TO STOP SHOOTING PEOPLE WITH GUN ANYMORE
When National Comics started, they inherited two publishers of the type whose company they took over, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. These two editors were Vin Sullivan and Whitney Ellsworth. Ellsworth, however, felt there was no money to be made in comics, so he moved to California to find work there. So when action comics #1 came out, Vin Sullivan was THE editor of National Comics. It was Sullivan, for example, who actually decided to put Superman in the first issue of Action Comics and it was Sullivan who bought the first Batman feature for Detective comics #27.
Sullivan was very creator-friendly. However, he also had a “creator’s rights” vision, so when he came up with the idea of tying the comic to the 1939 World’s Fair, he struck a deal with National to get a percentage of the comedy sales. Well, those royalties never seemed to exactly get to Sullivan, and when he found out that World Comics Fair was going to continue in 1940 (without his involvement), he almost had it and quit, later noting that he just didn’t want to be involved with people who were going to treat him like this.
Whitney Ellsworth returned from California and became the new editor of National Comics. And soon after Ellsworth returned, he quickly established that National Comics was in charge of those characters, and not Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, Jerry Siegel, or Joe Shuster.
This became apparent when Ellsworth made a noticeable change in Batman #1, decreeing that the Joker would not be killed (with panels added to note that Joker survived his seemingly fatal fight with Batman in the issue).
Plus, Ellsworth wasn’t a fan of the Batman using a gun to kill in the issue…
or Batman carrying a period of guns, as in Detective comics #35 a few months earlier…
So in Batman #4, Batman uses a gun, there’s an editor’s note to say Batman doesn’t carry guns and kill people.
Ellsworth radically changed Batman. Eventually, Ellsworth would return to Hollywood to oversee National’s television interests in the Superman TV show and other editors (Mort Weisinger on Superman and Jack Schiff on Batman) would take over, but they would follow Ellswoerth’s lead.
SO WHAT TOOK BATMAN TO USE A WEAPON?
“Me. Outlaw,” opens with Wheels Mitchum completing a book he was paid $3,000 to write about his career as a criminal…
We see that Wheels was an ingenious criminal, coming up with a super-fast drying system so stolen cars could be painted quickly after being stolen. Batman and Robin stumbled upon it, however, and Wheels actually shot the Dark Knight! He then had Batman and Robin put in the ultra-rapid drying station, with the intention of burning them alive…
They escape and Batman grabs a gun and I love Robin freaking out at the sight of Batman wielding a gun. He’s SO freaked out, but luckily Batman just uses the gun to blow up a few fuel canisters…
It’s still a hell of a sign, isn’t it?
Okay, Wheels gets plastic surgery and gets into other criminal activities before stealing cars again, but now, with a new gadget, he uses a military cargo vehicle and disguises it as a trawler. The stolen cars are driven to the dock and then loaded onto the ship. Batman, however, gets the plot and Wheels goes on the run and he comes up with the plan to trick his own lawyer into setting himself up before he kills his lawyer…
Batman, however, uses the bullet from his previous gunshot wound to convict Wheels.
Wheels attempts to escape but is captured and is seen to be about to head for the chair. He sends money to his little brother, not yet a crook like Wheels…
What an incredibly dark ending. You wouldn’t see stuff like that once the comic book code went into effect.
If you have any suggestions for comics for February (or other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972, and 1947, email me at [email protected]! Here’s the guide, though, to book cover dates so you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional time lag between cover date and release date of a comic for most of comic book history has been two months (sometimes it was three months, but not during the periods we discuss here). So the comics will have a cover date that is two months before the actual release date (so October for a book released in August). Obviously, it’s easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago came out, because there was internet coverage of the books at the time.
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