Thursday, December 21, 2017
MYTHCOMICS: "THE GOLDEN EGGS" (BATMAN #99, 1956)
The cover to BATMAN #99 doesn't include any images of the crusader's second most famed felon, so I'm leading off with the cover of the 1966 paperback reprint of the story "The Golden Eggs," which to my knowledge is the only place where the tale has seen reprint.
The paperback obviously came into being to cash in on the 1966 teleseries. The series patently diverges from the comic in many ways, some of which greatly annoyed comics-fans, as I covered in the course of the three-part BATTLE FOR BAT-LEGITIMACY series. However, one of the things that the series got right was the thoroughly unrealistic concept of the "pattern-criminal."
The "pattern-criminal" was the name I applied back in The Day to all characters whose crimes followed some sort of pattern that had intense meaning for said characters. These crooks didn't simply stick up banks or museums at random, but constructed their heists like theatrical performances designed to one-up the forces of law and order generally, and Batman specifically. To be sure, the comics did "pattern-crimes" better than the series did, given that the comics were exclusively aimed at an audience invested in enjoying escapist, unrealistic "cops-and-robbers" stories.
I would assume that there may have been some precursors to this form in prose fiction, particularly in pulp fiction, but even the weird fiends of the DOC SAVAGE feature don't seem nearly as fetishistic about their crimes. So far as I can tell, Bill Finger invented the concept in comic books with the 1940 debut of the Joker in 1940. In his first appearance the Clown Prince's only fetish-crime consists of killing off his victims with a "venom" that makes them grin horribly as they expire. Yet Finger didn't immediately apply the notion to all of Batman's antagonists. Both Hugo Strange and the Cat-- later, Catwoman-- appear in the same issue as the Joker, but their crimes don't follow any pattern as such.
Both Joker and Catwoman began emphasizing "pattern-crimes" over the years, as did the aforementioned "Birdman Bandit," the Penguin. He first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS #58 (1941), but despite his bird-like appearance, he committed no "bird-crimes" at the time, but was defined more by his use of weaponized umbrellas.
Later Penguin stories had the master malefactor switch off between patterning crimes after birds or after umbrellas, but many of these stories didn't pursue the patterns with enough symbolic complexity to propagate. This Finger-Moldoff story, whose title is borrowed from the fable of "the Goose with the Golden Eggs," is one of the exceptions.
By then, it was quite common for supervillains to seize upon some reversal in their fortunes, and to seek to turn it around, the better to demonstrate their insidious inventiveness. As the story escapes, the Penguin has escaped one of his hideouts just before Batman and Robin break in. He takes refuge in a second, rather shabby hideout, but he's brought one item from his old digs with him: a box of bird-eggs. Nothing daunted, the villain then gets the idea to pattern his next crimes according to whatever birds hatch from the eggs, as if to show off his brilliance at being able to profit from the vagaries of fate. The one vagary he can't fathom is a single egg in his collection that he doesn't recognize.
I won't spend a lot of time on each of the Penguin's "golden egg" crimes, but they all share a cosmological aspect, in that they reproduce scientifically observable ornithological factoids. Like most of the ego-driven Bat-villains, the Penguin gives the lawmen a clue as to his impending plans. In one scene, he sends the remnants of a herring-gull eggshell to police HQ. Batman, whose knowledge rivals that of the super-crook, knows that the crime will follow the herring gull's pattern of dropping clams from great heights in order to break their shells. So of course the Penguin uses a helicopter with a claw-attachment to lift a safe out of a skyscraper-office.
Each crime is an occasion for writer Finger to show off his research into bird-lore, and in one of the endeavors, Penguin's main crime is accompanied by a distraction-technique, fooling the Dynamic Duo into chasing the mad laugh of a "kookaburra."
In the end, the crimefighters trail their foe to his hideout. Penguin gets the drop on them with one of his umbrellas, one holding an artificial bomb-egg. (If he'd been the TV-villain Egghead, he would have dutifully called it an "eggs-plosive.") Penguin is hoist on his own petard when the "mystery egg" hatches, releasing a baby alligator that bites his shin and allows the heroes to disarm him. He returns to durance vile as usual, not forswearing crime as such, but casting a pox on all eggs.