Tuesday, July 7, 2015


"...And I'll say I can barely read that eye chart!"
Besides being a Caped Crusader and a grim avenger of the night, Batman is also a great spokesperson for exciting new careers. Take, for example, the story in Batman vol.1 No.49 (Oct-Nov 1948, "The Prison Doctor") in which Batman extols the virtues of Dr.Paul Taber, a former Army Corps medic who switches careers after the end of the war (and a good thing too, imagine being a combat medic after everyone's gone home. All busting into Parisian cafes and hauling dudes out over his shoulders, shouting "DON'T WORRY SOLDIER,WE'RE GONNA GET YOU HOME!" to the maitre d' as he splints his legs for no reason).

Great bedside manner on this guy.
Dr, Taber takes up a career at Gotham Penitentiary, which is plenty smart of him because the guys who work at Arkham all end up getting their skin worn by the inmates as a joke. No, all Dr.Taber has to deal with is fibbing criminals looking for a faked diagnosis and a little easy living while serving out their sentences. Not in an American jail you don't, buddy - do you think you're here for rehabilitation? Not according to Dr.Taber, whose typical day-in-the-life involves poo-pooing inmates' illnesses, slugging the frisky ones and signing death certificates for the ones who end up in the chair. It's no flower arranging, but it's still a pretty business.

The doc runs afoul of a quartet of crooks bearing the typical colorful sobriquets of the era - Lippy, Boodle, Nitro and Weasel, either hardened criminals or the names of the ghosts from Pac-Man. The four have made off with an oddly specific amount of $483,000.00 and hidden it somewhere no one can find it, but they're in prison so I guess the public wins.

Nitro is the one who schemes to get Dr.Taber to play along with a fabricated death penalty and a hurried escape plan. Nitro, Boodle and Lippy pour an enormous tank of boiling water on their former pal Weasel, ideally actually Pauly Shore, earning themselves death sentences. Nitro's bribed the guy who maintains the electric chair, though, so it'll deliver a harmless shock. All he needs is for the doc to officially pronounce him dead so that he can get out, recover the loot, split a little with the willing medico and be on his merry way.

At this point, this adventure is a lot less weird than most of these old Batman stories covered on this site, but that's primarily because the high points are so delightful. To begin with, there's a scene wherein Batman and Robin blithely wade into a prison recreation yard, setting off the violent criminals inside just so they can wale the tar out of them with their two fists and repressed emotions. It's a mighty fine scene, and it looks like this:

If anything in this episode tops it, however, it's Batman's using his great deductive skills to perceive confrontational adolescent wit:

The World's Greatest Detective.

In the end, it turns out that Dr.Taber only ever agreed to Nitro's plan in order to help trap the crook, and because he likes seeing bad guys die in the electric chair - more than once, if possible! It's a big day for the doctor, although he tells the tale in front of a disciplinary committee which you'd think they never would have had to assemble because the warden, the prison electrician and Batman, a deputized officer of the law, were all in on it. For the briefest moment, it kind of felt like they were setting Dr.Taber up for a fall. Maybe it's Batman;s way of reminding the doc to leave the crimefighting to him - there's a lot of exciting careers in Gotham City, but there's only enough weird bad guys for one Batman ...

You HOPE that's
what it means.

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