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Overlooked Bat Treasures #2
Monday, June 26, 2006
Author:
Mark S. Reinhart

Copyright © 2006 by Mark S. Reinhart

This is the second (and very long overdue) installment in a series I am writing for BOF. Since it has been so long since my first installment, please allow me to restate my intended purpose of this series. I am a lifelong Batman fan and author of the 2004 book THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY, and from time to time I will contribute a short piece about one of my personal favorite Batman items. These items might be comic stories, toys, music, screen works, etc. There will be no organization ascribed to them other than the fact that they are Batman things which this particular Batman fan finds to be both of excellent quality and generally overlooked.

This installment is about a comic book story entitled “Hunt for a Robin Killer” which was first published in Detective Comics #374 (see upper left), April 1968. The 14-page story was written by Gardner Fox, penciled by Gil Kane and inked by Sid Greene. Just a quick side note – in those days, comic book stories often did not carry credits that listed the artists and writers who actually created them. This was the case with “Hunt for a Robin Killer” – no writer or artist was credited on the title page of the story. “Hunt for a Robin Killer” told a tale of Batman tracking down a vicious criminal who had brutally beaten Robin almost to death. (Obviously, the title of the story was misleading – it would have been better titled “Hunt for a WOULD-BE Robin Killer,” but I guess we can forgive Fox for attempting to ramp up the drama of the story just a bit!)

At the opening of “Hunt for a Robin Killer,” Batman and Robin are raiding the hideout of a gang of criminals. During the raid, another criminal who holds a grudge against Robin makes a sneak attack on the Boy Wonder while Batman is occupied taking down the gang. Batman finds Robin, bloodied, bruised, and perilously close to death, and rushes the boy to a nearby hospital. Overcome with grief, Batman then goes on a manhunt to find the criminal who had come so close to killing his junior partner. Batman has a hard time keeping his feelings of rage and vengeance under control during this intensely personal case, but in the end he uses his superior detection skills to bring the criminal to justice. The story ends with Robin being released from the hospital, still weak, but ready to take his place alongside his mentor.

I have always been a fan of “Hunt for a Robin Killer” because the story is so much more of a realistic crime drama than most Batman comic stories of its era. Gardner Fox incorporates a number of details into the story that are drawn from a logical, “real world” point of view. For example, Batman and Robin are shown to have a standard operating procedure when raiding a gang’s hideout – Batman attacks the criminals from the front entrance, and Robin guards the back entrance of the hideout in case any of the criminals should try to flee that direction. Also, Batman worries that the doctor attending to Robin has learned the boy’s secret identity because he saw his young patient unmasked. The doctor replies that he has no idea who Robin is -- in a city of millions, he cannot possibly know everyone at first sight, including this boy with very average features. And the criminals that the Dynamic Duo face in “Hunt for a Robin Killer” are non-costumed thugs, similar to the kind of characters you might find in a 1940’s film noir production.

The realism found in “Hunt for a Robin Killer” is enhanced by the story’s great artwork provided by Gil Kane and Sid Greene. Carmine Infantino is usually credited with being the finest artist to draw Batman during the “New Look” period of the character’s history (roughly 1964-1970), but I have always felt that Kane’s Batman art during this period was actually superior to Infantino’s. Kane’s pencil work was most often inked by either Greene or Murphy Anderson, and these men rendered stories that featured unusual layouts, deep perspective, and most importantly, wonderfully realistic and expressive characters. Their Batman seemed much closer to reality than many other “New Look” artists.

The combination of great storytelling and great artwork found in “Hunt for a Robin Killer” makes the story one of my all-time favorite Batman works. Don’t forget, this story was originally published while the ABC television series Batman was still in its initial run. “Hunt for a Robin Killer” demonstrated that even during the “camp Batman” craze, Batman still possessed all of the traits that had always made him such a great character. Sure, the story’s prose may be a bit purple, and it does not pack the kind of punch that today’s graphic novels do, but it is unmistakably BATMAN. In the tale, he descends on criminals with a vengeance that fills them with terror. At one point, he even appears in menacing silhouette in a doorway, a dark vigilante bent on apprehending Robin’s “killer.”

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I am just about the only Batman fan who is a big fan of “Hunt for a Robin Killer.” The story has been reprinted only once, in Batman #257, July-August 1974. It never has been reprinted in any sort of “Best of Batman” anthology released by DC Comics. I had high hopes that the story might make the cut for DC’s Batman in the Sixties softcover book, but it did not. (I must admit, I have been very disappointed by DC’s editorial decisions regarding many of their Batman reprint books – I feel that their “decade” books, as well as their “best of” books have more often than not contained very poor selections of material)

So, does anyone else out there consider “Hunt for a Robin Killer” an overlooked Bat treasure? Well, whether or not any of you BOF readers agree with me, thanks for reading, and I hope to check in with all of you again soon.

Mark S. Reinhart is the author of THE BATMAN FILMOGRAPHY.
Send Mark your FEEDBACK.

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