Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Blind Men's Bluff

When Batman is having a tough time taking out some blind guys, then you know he's having a bad day.

Well, actually, the blind guys aren't blind. They're pretending to be blind as part of their cover to commit a major heist. Now, the blind guy who was pretending to be Batman was really blind. He's dead, though. There's another guy pretending to be blind who really is Batman. He's not really blind, nor is he dead, despite Commissioner Gordon's continued insistence that Batman is indeed dead.

All this starts in Batman #204 (August 1968) when a criminal mastermind known as the Schemer decides to rob an armored car that will be transporting a fortune in gold.  He knows that Batman is his greatest threat to success. So he leaves a corpse in a alley--someone dressed as a blind beggar, but who had apparently scratched a "They found out I'm Batman" on the alley wall before dying.

The story, written by Frank Robbins and with evocative art by Irv Novick, does hit a bit of a bump here. Gordon, quite frankly, comes out looking like an idiot throughout the story, convinced on questionable evidence that the dead man is indeed Batman. In fact, even when the real Batman does a Sherlock Scan of the corpse and points out several significant clues indicating the guy really was a blind beggar, Gordon throws a fit and tries to have Real Batman arrested. But if you can get past that part, then you still have a cleverly-plotted, exciting and occasionally creepy (in a good way) story.

A veritable army of blind beggars, none of whom are really blind and several of whom have rocket launchers hidden in their canes, are hanging around Gotham City and are on the lookout for an armored car that will be picking up a shipment of gold from a secret location. With the Batman and the cops all distracted, the Schemer figures out he'll have a clear field to commit his robbery.

But Batman manages to stay a jump ahead of the cops, at one point even knocking out one of the fake beggars and changing clothes with him, fooling Gordon long enough to get away from the cops and get a line on the real bad guys.

That brings us to Batman #205 (September 1968), with the Schemer finally tracking the armored car to the bank where the gold is stored. Here we finally learn the details of his plan--and from the point-of-view of comic book logic, it really is a doozy. He'll be setting off a bright flare to temporarily blind the bank guards. The
sunglasses his men are wearing are all designed to filter out the light of the flare, allowing them to get the gold. I mentioned above that Novick's are is evocative. The panel in which a small army of "blind" men approaches the nervous guards is proof of this. Gee whiz, that's a creepy image.

But Batman, himself now in blind beggar garb, manages to foil the plot at the last moment. By the time the dust settles, the gold has been safely delivered to a transport plane, but Robin has been captured by the Schemer. The Schemer has a back-up plan--the submarine he uses as a secret hideout is equipped with a missile launcher with which he can shoot down the plane carrying the gold. Robin can be used as a hostage to keep Batman from interfering.

Batman (with the help of Alfred piloting the Bat Copter) does indeed interfere, rescuing Robin and stopping the Schemer in the nick of time.

Despite Gordon's two-issue descent into idiocy (and arguably despite the less-than-original name "Schemer" with a stereotypical owl-theme to his appearance), this really is an incredibly fun story. The pacing is non-stop, with the plot running at full speed from start to finish. The twists and turns the story takes are fun and believable within a comic book universe. Batman gets to be legitimately clever on several occasions, as well as being a kick-butt martial artist. And, despite getting captured, Robin plays a key part in the tale and does contribute his share to catching the villain.

Although I can't help but think: If the Schemer hadn't apparently spent a fortune equipping a submarine with an advanced weapons system, he probably wouldn't have to rob gold shipments to get by. Gee whiz, maybe he wasn't that smart after all.

Next week, a gorilla gets really hungry and... saves the world?


  1. Wasn't there a Shadow story with a blind man who wasn't blind?

    1. Now that you mention it, I'm virtually certain that there was. I'll have to try to look that up.


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