I didn't think I would find much of interest in reading these stories but I kind of liked them for various reasons. Sure they are very dated and corny but they also give us a window into the development of this great character. Its true he is not the scientific genius that comic fans think off today, but he is no idiot either. We also see that this Batman is very human and fallible. He slips up and makes mistakes in many of these stories and gets hurt more than once at the hands of various criminals. He is also not the seemingly emotionless manipulator he has come to be known as but instead is a reflection of the attitudes and values of the late 1930's and early 1940's. We would never think about Bruce Wayne lounging around in a robe and smoking a pipe while he is trying to work out a problem, but in this collection it's a very common sight. And it would seem very odd for the modern Batman fan to see him cracking jokes and telling his enemies off while fighting them but that is exactly what he does. In this collection Batman faces off against numerous common gangsters as well as pirates, pygmies, giants and the missing link.
The Joker makes his debut in this collection. Sure he is really nothing more than a goofy cold-blooded thief, but even here we see the start of the character he would eventually evolve into. From the very start we can see how he enjoys terrorizing and killing his victims with his Joker toxin. But if you were expecting to see Batman catch the Joker and toss him into Arkham Asylum like he has done so many times before then think again. In one story we see him planning to kidnap the Joker from a hospital so he can hand him over to a brain surgeon to operate on in hopes of a cure to his madness. This Batman doesn't always play by the rules.
This collection also sees the introduction of the Catwoman as well. We get to see Batman's infatuation with her from the very beginning. Catwoman is on a cruise ship disguised as a lame old woman but is found out when a false fire alarm causes her to hoist up her dress to run away. But Batman is too busy admiring her legs to chase her. I nearly busted a gut laughing over that scene. I just couldn't believe it. Later Batman purposely gives her the chance to escape while stopping Robin from going after her.
I have to say that I was surprised at the level of violence in these stories. I lost count of how many people, mostly criminals, were killed in these stories. But its interesting to note that despite the romanticized exploits of real life gangsters these stories always portrayed them as villains. Batman and Robin made it quite clear that they were dead serious when it came to fighting crime. There are several messages in these stories about what it means to be a good American. Batman and Robin always take the moral high ground by speaking out against people trying to glamorize criminals. In one story Batman lets four criminals he disarmed take on Robin to show the kids of America that criminals without guns are just cowards. Naturally Robin mops up the floor with these idiots and then breaking the fourth wall Batman directly addresses the reader to tell them what losers criminals are. That was a new one on me but pretty cool all the same. These are not the Batman stories I grew up on but I would recommend you read them anyway at least once. If you do you may find that although the type of stories depicted has had to change to keep up with the times, the core idea of what makes Batman such an iconic character has changed very little.