A Visual Index to Early Batman Stories

(Batman MicroHeroes)

I am a major Batman fan.  When I started doing MicroHeroes, I knew it was only a matter of time before I tackled characters from the rich history of Batman. And to place that history in context, I decided to describe briefly the stories the characters came from.  And having started that, I then decided to attempt to cover every Batman story, in order of publication.

Last update: January 4, 2012
Detective Comics 27
Detective Comics #27, May 1939, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate"
Young playboy Bruce Wayne, visiting his friend, Police Commissioner Gordon, is drawn into the murder of a businessman, supposedly by his own son. A strange, new vigilante, The Batman, takes an interest and is led to the real villains: Alfred Stryker (who schemed to take control of a chemical company from his fellow stockholders) and Jennings, his henchman. Wouldn't the Commissioner be surprised to learn that Bruce Wayne is The Batman?

The first appearance of the Batman. The basic plot, by the way, is taken from a Shadow pulp tale, "Partners of Peril" (recently reprinted, if you're curious).
Bruce Wayne 1940s Comm. Gordon 1940s Batman -- First Appearance
Bruce Wayne Commissioner James W. Gordon Batman
Jennings Alfred Stryker
Jennings Alfred Stryker
Detective Comics 28
Detective Comics #28, June 1939, untitled
The Batman encounters a suave jewel thief, "Frenchy" Blake. Not much else to tell here. The most interesting thing about this story is how Batman first gets the police to think he's the thief, then closes the case for them by beating a confession out of Frenchy – not quite the "World's Greatest Detective" of later years.
Frenchy Blake
Frenchy Blake
Detective Comics 29
Detective Comics #29, July 1939, "The Batman Meets Doctor Death"
The first foe to return, Doctor Death is probably the first true Bat-villain, in that he has a codename and a gimmick. Dr. Karl Hellfern, society doctor, developed a deadly pollen with which he threatened wealthy men. When someone failed to pay up, he sent his Hindu servant, Jabah, to spray them with the pollen. He apparently perishes in a fire.
Doctor Death Jabah
Doctor Death Jabah
Detective Comics 30
Detective Comics #30, August 1939, untitled
Doctor Death escapes the fire, but not unscathed.  In Detective #30, we see him, bandaged, sending another servant, the Cossack Mikhail, to retrieve some jewels he'd left in another location. When Batman finally arrests him (Dr. Death is disguised as an old jewel dealer named Ivan Herd), he finds Doctor Death was hideously scarred by the fire.

I thought there was some promise to this villain, but he never returned after this. But, like many an early Bat-villain, later generations reused and revised the concept. Gerry Conway did a very similar (if unscarred) Doctor Death in the '80s, and there is also a modern version (face hidden in a gas mask but still using allergens as a weapon).

These two stories were written by a young Gardner Fox, who had previously written a few other stories for Detective.
Doctor Death Mikhail
Ivan Herd Doctor Death
Doctor Death Mikhail Ivan Herd Doctor Death
Detective Comics 31
Detective Comics #31, September 1939, untitled
Bruce's fiancee, Julie Madison, is advised to take a trip for her health. "Why not Hungary?" the doctor suggests, "Land of enchantment and ... werewolves!" His keen detective instincts aroused, Bruce follows Julie as the Batman and finds her being hypnotised by "a weird figure, cowled like a monk", if monks regularly wore full-head hoods with pirate flags on them. He saves her, and avoids a trap with a giant gorilla (shown here drawn as unrealistically as it appeared in the story), but vows to get The Monk. (That always seemed to me to need both capitals, like The Batman or The Shadow.)
Julie Madison The Monk giant gorilla
Julie Madison The Monk giant gorilla
Detective Comics 32
Detective Comics #32, October 1939, untitled
This issue, we're in Hungary, and Batman randomly kidnaps a young woman named Dala, who turns out to be a vampire under The Monk's influence.  Batman melts down a silver statuette (with a candle) into bullets and kills the two of them as they rest in their coffins. Oh, yes, in addition to the giant gorilla, werewolves appear in here at various times, as well.  And there was a reference to Orson Welles's "War of the Worlds" scare in the previous issue.

The two Monk stories are both by Gardner Fox, and they're pretty clunky.  Fox apparently really liked both M. G. Lewis's Gothic classic, The Monk, and the Lugosi Dracula film, and wasn't too clear on the difference between vampires and werewolves.  However, he did introduce the second returning Bat-villain, a love life for Bruce Wayne, specialized equipment such as the "baterang" and bat-plane (actually, an autogyro), and a definite urban setting for the stories: New York.

Matt Wagner retold this sequence in the 2006 Batman and the Mad Monk 6-issue mini-series.
Dala Tuxedoed Monk
Dala The Monk (as in his coffin)
Detective Comics 33
Detective Comics #33, November 1939, "The Batman Wars Against the Dirigible of Doom"
Dr. Carl Kruger has such a Napoleonic complex, he even looks like Napoleon.  He joins with three other scientists, and a private army, to form the Scarlet Horde.  (Oddly, while their leaders wear scarlet, the Scarlet Horde apparently all wear green.)  They attack New York with death rays, and Batman flies to the defense.  He infiltrates the Horde, fakes his own death, wrecks the Dirigible of Doom, and has an aerial battle with Dr. Kruger.

"Mr. Bixley" is called that by the crew of the Dirigible of Doom, so I'm claiming "Mister" is more of a First Mate title than just an ordinary address.  Ryder is simply referred to as one of the lieutenants, but I've given him that as an official rank.  Poor Travis had nothing but his surname in the story.

The Dirigible of Doom story was also the first appearance of Batman's origin, a page-and-a-half sequence called "The Batman -- Who He Is and How He Came to Be". Since the Scarlet Horde story follows immediately afterwards, I've chosen to treat this as part of that story.  I'll cover the origin specifically when I get to Batman #1, where it was reprinted.

Bat-trivia: Gerry Conway also reworked this story in the '80s, with Dr. Kruger becoming "Colonel Blimp". (According to the dictionary, "Colonel Blimp" was a 1937 cartoon-strip character with pompous, reactionary views. I guess Conway just liked the name, as the character showed none of these traits.)
Carl Kruger The Scarlet Horde
Dr. Carl Kruger The Scarlet Horde
Mr. Bixley Lt. Ryder Travis
Mr. Bixley Lt. Ryder Travis
Detective Comics 34
Detective Comics #34, December 1939, untitled
Bruce thinks he sees a friend on the street, but it turns out to be Charles Maire, who apologizes because his lack of a face "must be startling". Maire was the victim of the Duc D'Orterre, Master of the Apaches. (The Apaches were a criminal gang of fin de siecle Paris, so named because their savageness was compared with those of the Apache tribe of 19th century America. You may have heard of, or seen references to, the "Apache dance", where a man roughly treates his female dance partner.) The Duc had burned Maire's face away with a "terrible ray".  Batman goes after D'Orterre, escapes from a rotating-wheel torture through a garden of talking human-faced flowers (!) (I'm sorry, but !  !!), and fights a final battle with the Duc, who drives his car off a bridge.

This was another Gardner Fox story.  He certainly had a taste for the exotic, but flowers with faces??!! (This could reflect the influence of Clark Ashton Smith's "The Garden of Adompha", published in Weird Tales in April 1938. Fox is known to have been a fan of the Lovecraft circle's stories.)

By the way, this is the last non-Batman cover on Detective. Some say that's the Crimson Avenger, even though there has been no CA story in Detective since #29, he didn't wear a checked scarf, and this is more of an Orange Avenger.
Charles Maire The Duc D'Orterre Parisian Apache
Charles Maire The Duc D'Orterre Parisian Apache
Detective Comics 35
Detective Comics #35, January 1940, untitled
Explorer Sheldon Lenox has stolen an idol carved from a giant ruby: Kila, the Hindu god of destruction.  The Kila cult hunts him down and kills him, but not until after he's sold the idol to a collector.  The idol is then stolen from the collector, and Batman goes to Wong, the "unofficial mayor of Chinatown", to learn who might fence stolen goods.  He's directed to one Sin Fang, who sics giant Mongol warriors on Batman.  Sin Fang is revealed to be Lenox, who set up the whole thing to get the idol and escape the cult. He really dies when Batman throws the Kila idol at him, and he falls out the window.

This story is something of a swipe from the first Shadow pulp novel, in which a Chinese mastermind is revealed to be a white man in make-up.

And what's with the name "Kila"?  It's OK to risk offending Chinese and Hindus, but not Kali?  Were Thuggee big readers of Detective Comics?

Note the cover: that mad doctor bears a remarkable resemblance to the Duc D'Orterre from last issue.
Sheldon Lenox Kila Cultist Giant Mongol
Sheldon Lenox Kila Cultist Giant Mongol
Wong Sin Fang
"Mayor" Wong Sin Fang
Detective Comics 36
Detective Comics #36, February 1940, untitled
It's the first appearance of Prof. Hugo Strange, but the story shows Batman has previous knowledge of him – whether through crime files or direct experience is unclear, but Strange's sneering "my dear Batman" suggests something of an untold history between the two.

The story isn't much: Strange kidnaps an electrical engineer to help create a super-dense fog in which his hirelings can hide after crimes. (The fog machine as drawn is a Zeiss projector – the old-fashioned planetarium devices – with extra attachments.) But you can see why Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers were drawn to resurrect him in 1977.  Strange is presented as a physically powerful, yet sophisticated, man, planning grand schemes with scientific wonders but not above rolling up his sleeves and picking up the bullwhip when Batman is captured.

Hey, the cover shows Batman fighting Mongols, just like last issue's story!
Prof. Hugo Strange
Prof. Hugo Strange
Detective Comics 37
Detective Comics #37, March 1940, untitled
Batman comes across a gangland execution.  The dying man names "Turg" as the one who ordered him killed.  Bruce Wayne looks up the three "Turgs" in the phone book and finds one, Elias Turg, is supposedly a simple grocer but is too well-dressed and has bodyguards.  Turg is part of a smuggling ring, but a thug refers to "The Head" as someone who is apparently not Turg. Further investigation shows that "Turg" is actually a disguise for the socially prominent Count Grutt.  In the final battle, Grutt accidentally impales himself on a sword.

The waterfront fight shown on this cover did appear in this story.
Elias Turg Count Grutt
Elias Turg Count Grutt
Detective Comics 38
Detective Comics #38, April 1940, "Robin--the Boy Wonder"
It's the sensational character find of 1940! Robin, the Boy Wonder!

Surely everyone knows the basic story by now: The Flying Graysons, acrobats, work for Haly's Circus. Mr. Haly is threatened by Blade, an agent of Boss Zucco, and to show Haly that the Boss means business, the trapezes are sabotaged.  John and Mary Grayson fall to their deaths in front of their young son, Dick.  Bruce Wayne takes the orphaned boy under his wing and trains him as a partner for Batman, their first case together being the capture of the killers of Dick's parents. Blade's murder by Zucco gave Batman and Robin the evidence needed to send Zucco to the electric chair.

There have been many variants on this over the years: Zucco was a young punk working for someone else; Two-Face killed the Graysons; Mr. Haly did it to collect insurance.  Most of these were retold to cover the serious charge of child endangerment: what was Bruce Wayne thinking, bringing a 10-year-old boy into harm's way with him?  (Dr. Frederick Wertham, psychologist from the 1950s, suspected there was a homosexual relationship between the two.)

But in the black-and-white world of four-color comics of the Forties, what could be more natural than an adult pal helping a kid bring his parent's killers to justice? (Hey, it's a better motivation than Bucky had.)
Dick Grayson Robin
Dick Greyson Robin
John Grayson Mary Grayson Mr. Haly
John Grayson Mary Grayson Mr. Haly
Boss Zucco Blade
Boss Zucco Blade
Batman 1
Batman #1, Spring 1940, "The Legend of the Batman -- Who He Is and How He Came to Be"
Having a hit on their hands with the Batman, DC decided to follow the method they used with Superman and create a second magazine with the character, this one devoted entirely to his exploits.  They began by reprinting the page-and-a-half origin from Detective Comics #33.

"One night some fifteen years ago, Thomas Wayne, his wife and his son were walking home from a movie..." There's a holdup, and the Waynes are shot, leaving young Bruce an orphan, but a driven one: "And I swear by the spirits of my parents to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals." As he grows, he trains his mind and body, and then, as an adult, muses on the best way to carry out this plan. "Criminals are a cowardly, superstitious lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts." A bat flies in the open window, and the rest is history.

The gunman is not called "Joe Chill" here, Thomas Wayne is not a doctor, and Martha Wayne is unnamed.  These elaborations are to come in future stories.

The coloring on these characters, for those who care, comes from Detective Comics #33; they were minorly recolored in this reprint.
unnamed gunman Dr. Thomas Wayne Martha Wayne Young Bruce Wayne
unnamed gunman Dr. Thomas Wayne Martha Wayne Young Bruce Wayne
Batman #1, Spring 1940, untitled Night, and radio programs are interrupted by an eerie voice threatening the midnight death of Henry Claridge and the theft of his diamond by... The Joker.  Police guard Claridge as the clock strikes twelve.  "I'm safe!" shouts Claridge, "I'm saaa-- Aagh! Aagh!"  He falls dead, his mouth twisted into an evil grimace. "Grotesque!  The Joker brings death to his victims with a smile!" Investigation shows the diamond in Claridge's safe is actually glass.

Man, what a great, moody opening!  And it gets better.  Another victim is struck down in the midst of his guards by a blowgun dart.  A third is playing cards with the Chief of Police, who suddenly declares, "You can't win anyway!  You see, I hold the winning card!" And it's a joker.

The eventual encounters between The Joker and The Batman are almost an anti-climax to the murders.  There's a temporary setback, but Batman captures the killer in the end.  But the last panel belongs to The Joker: "They can't keep me here!" he grins from between the bars of his cell.  "I know of a way out -- The Joker will have the last laugh!"

This is probably the single best story of the Batman's early career, written by Bill Finger.

Also, at this point, a number of minor costume tweaks for the Batman have settled down, so along with the Joker, here also is the iconic Batman of the 1940s.
The Joker The Batman
The Joker The Batman
Batman #1, Spring 1940, untitled This story's premise was straight from a Doc Savage story, "The Monsters" (April 1934).  Hugo Strange kidnaps some insane asylum inmates, and some time later giant monsters roam Gotham, causing destruction.  Strange has turned the inmates into giants and is using them as both a terror weapon and a cover for ordinary crime.  How does one capture and imprison a mad giant?  According to Batman, one doesn't: "Much as I hate to take human life, I'm afraid this time it's necessary." He hangs one monster after roping it from the Batplane, causes two others to fight to their mutual deaths, and machine-guns a final one.

This story was retold by Matt Wagner in a 6-issue mini-series, Batman and the Monster Men.  So I'm calling this giant a Monster Man.

Here, too, is Hugo in his down-to-earth, "roll up your sleeves and get busy with the important work of horsewhipping your foe" attitude.
Prof. Hugo Strange Monster Man
Hugo Strange with bullwhip The Monster Men
Batman #1, Spring 1940, untitled There's a party aboard wealthy Mrs. Travers's yacht, and nephew Denny brings a guest, the elderly Miss Peggs. She is secretly The Cat, renowned jewel thief, working with Denny to steal his aunt's diamonds. Along the way in this story, there's a holdup by fake Coast Guard men, a masquerade party, and, of course, The Batman, who allows Robin to tackle four of the holdup men alone, to prove to the kids of America how yellow crooks are without their guns. He also shows the kids of America that it's okay to let a criminal escape if she's female and you like her eyes.

This is, of course, the first appearance of the character who will soon be known as the Catwoman.
Denny Travers Miss Peggs The Cat
Denny Travers Miss Peggs The Cat
Batman #1, Spring 1940, "The Joker Returns" The Joker's second appearance is not quite as memorable as the first, but it's still good. He escapes prison using explosives kept in hollow teeth (an idea taken from Doc Savage). From his secret laboratory beneath a cemetery (an idea taken from The Spirit), he prepares crimes that are as much about terror as about profit. He kills the police chief with a dart hidden in a phone receiver and gasses museum guards from within a mummy case. Reformer Edgar Martin, marked for death for denouncing The Joker, decides to play cards under watchful eyes of his guards, only to find every card in the pack is a joker, after which he dies from a poisoned cut he received from the cards. Batman sets a trap, and The Joker responds. There is a fight, during which The Joker accidentally stabs himself, shrieking "The Joker is going to die! The laugh is on The Joker! Laugh, clown, laugh!" He is left for dead, but the last panel shows a startled doctor saying, "He's going to live!"

Writer Bill Finger had actually written The Joker's death, but his editor overruled him, and the last panel was redrawn to save the character.

This story first showed the slouch hat and trenchcoat outfit which Marshall Rogers brought back in the 1970s and which then appeared in the first Batman movie and the animated adaptation of the Rogers story.  So, here is that appearance for The Joker.
The Joker
The Joker
New York World's Fair Comics 2
New York World's Fair Comics #2, 1940, untitled
DC did two issues of a comic intended to cash in on the 1939-40 World's Fair in New York City, one issue each year. Since Batman wasn't around at the time of the 1939 issue, he missed it, but he and Robin, or rather Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, did tour the fair in 1940 – for all of 8 panels.  A radio newscast then calls them back to the city and real meat of this story.

Dr. Hugo Vreekill has invented a device that melts or crumbles steel by destroying its molecular bonds, and he intends to use it to extort money from construction companies and civic officials. His horrified niece goes to the police, who summon Batman. Vreekill has smuggled one of the devices into State Prison, to free an army of criminals to work for him, so that's Batman's first stop. Next, it's off to a threatened building, and finally to Vreekill's lab, where Vreekill grabs a live wire and kills himself.

And the last panel plugs the Fair again.  

So why didn't Vreekill threaten some object at the Fair? I'm guessing the story was already in production and Fair references were inserted at the last minute to give DC a Batman story for the Fair book.

By the way, the idea of a comic with both Superman and Batman in it was apparently popular, because DC chose to continue it but as a new book, with the title World's Best rather than World's Fair.
Dr. Hugo Vreekill Limpy the convict
Dr. Hugo Vreekill Limpy the convict
Detective Comics 39
Detective Comics #39, May 1940, untitled
You can tell how much of an influence The Shadow was on The Batman partly because of the three separate stories that take place in Chinatown during the first couple of years.  This is the second of them.

Hatchet-wielding men threaten the honest denizens of Chinatown.  Batman visits his friend Wong, the "mayor" of Chinatown, for more information but finds Wong slain.  The trail leads to the Tong of the Green Dragon.  (A tong is a semi-military, semi-criminal organization from China.  The British supposedly smashed the tongs in China in the early 20th Century, but pulp writers of the time often brought them into America as the place they could re-establish their power base.)  Robin is captured and about to be tortured by the Master of the Green Dragon, who likes to watch things squirm, but Batman rescues him and smashes the idol which serves as a symbol of the Tong's power.

Hmm.  This cover shows a scene strongly resembling the climax of last issue's story.
"Mayor" Wong Master of the Green Dragon Hatchet Man
"Mayor" Wong Master of the Green Dragon Tong Tong Hatchet Man
Detective Comics 40
Detective Comics #40, June 1940, untitled
Julie Madison, last seen being threatened by vampires, is now an actress in a remake of a (silent?) horror picture.  Bruce and Dick are present to cheer her on, and luckily so, since murders start happening on set.  Someone, with a face like clay, evidently wants the production stopped.  Is it the fired actor?  Or Roxy Brenner, the gangster who threatened the studio head, Mr. Bentley?  Why, no, it's Basil Karlo, who played the monster in the original movie and now resents someone taking his place.

Clayface was nothing more than a variant on the Phantom of the Opera, but he gave his name to a 1960s villain who proved way more popular (and who spawned a string of even more Clayfaces – I think they're up to Clayface VII or Clayface VIII in the comics).  And in the 2006 cartoon incarnation, Clayface is once again Basil Karlo.

This cover shows a scene from Batman #1's second Joker story. What's been going on here, with all these mismatched covers?  I'm guessing that, as with the pulps, comics writers were asked to develop a story based on a cover image.  Only the resulting story was not necessarily used in the same issue as the inspirational cover. This suggests Batman stories were assigned/received without a firm plan as to where they'd appear.  Certainly, the stories in Batman #1 were pulled from inventory planned for Detective; Detective #37 announces, for the next issue, the Hugo Strange story from Batman #1, not the origin of Robin that did appear in that next issue. (I reject the idea that the production staff could have been one issue behind in producing covers, as this went on for over a year and was not consistently off.)
Clayface I Roxy Brenner Mr. Bentley
Clayface Roxy Brenner Mr. Bentley
Batman 2
Batman #2, Summer 1940, untitled
The Crime Syndicate, Inc. (I would like to have seen their incorporation papers), has lost its leader, and second-in-command Weasel gets a great idea: spring this injured guy, The Joker, who's been getting so much press, from the hospital and have him lead them in the theft of the Pharaoh's Gems.  The Joker is grateful but not enough to share the loot, and he quickly turns on his erstwhile benefactors.  But someone else is after the Gems: The Cat (now called The Cat-Woman as well). Batman is caught in the middle. He manages to recapture The Joker, but the The Cat escapes again (legitimately, this time).

Could this be the first comics story where two of a hero's established villains appear in the same story?  Yet they're not teaming up against Batman -- they're rivals for the same loot.  One wonders why this sort of thing didn't happen more often in Gotham City...
Weasel The Joker The Cat-Woman
Weasel, of The Crime Syndicate, Inc. The Joker The Cat-Woman
Batman #2, Summer 1940, "The Crime Master" Adam Lamb, a meek taxidermist, does enjoy his mystery novels.  While reading one called The Crime Master, he falls and hits his head, and the set of circumstances induces a split personality in him.  Taking the alias "Wolf", he becomes a master criminal himself by re-enacting the events of the novel. Batman quickly tumbles to the connection between Wolf and the novel, but he's at a loss as to who Wolf could be – until he remembers this meek taxidermist he met.  He arrives at Lamb's place of work in time to prevent a murder, but the circumstances of Lamb's original fall are recreated, and this time Lamb breaks his neck.

This was a pretty obvious Jekyll/Hyde inspiration, but I rather liked the added feature of the criminal who re-enacts a book. Batman stories always drew on a variety of popular fiction sources, but that particular feature was used a year later in an episode of The Shadow radio program, "The Chess Club Murders". Did they get it from the comic? Or is there some other movie or book that served as a common source for both?
Wolf (Adam Lamb)
Wolf, the Crime Master
Batman #2, Summer 1940, "The Case of the Clubfoot Murderers" Millionaire Harley Storme is killed by a clubfooted man with a hook hand. His heirs each receive a gold token with a cryptic message, and each is then attacked, presumably by Clubfoot Beggs, a former partner of Storme's whom he cheated out of his share of a gold mine. However, the real Clubfoot Beggs is a prisoner of Ward, Storme's lawyer, who knows the tokens will reveal the gold mine's location and who is masquerading as Clubfoot to get them all.

An average "pick off the heirs" story. There's even an heir with gambling debts to a gangster, Varrick, as a red herring. Clubfoot is an interesting design, and the story twists the tendency of popular fiction to make disfigured people villains (even if it does fall back on the crooked lawyer cliché), but the amateurish lettering spoiled the story for me.
Clubfoot Varrick
Clubfoot Varrick
Batman #2, Summer 1940, "The Case of the Missing Link" Prof. Drake has returned from Africa with a prehistoric survival: a creature he believes may be the missing evolutionary link between apes and humans.  Because of a glandular condition, the ape-man has grown to gigantic size, which led to its being worshipped by a tribe of Pygmies. Some of the Pygmies followed Drake to America and attack him on a train, which is how Batman gets involved. The news spreads, and Hackett and Snead, unscrupulous showmen, want to buy the ape-man, whom Drake calls Goliath, for their circus. When Drake refuses, they kill him and make his death look like suicide, and leave a fake will directing Goliath go to the circus.  Bruce and Dick attend Goliath's first public showing, in case there's trouble – and there is. Goliath recognizes one of Drake's killers and breaks free.  To save Batman's life, Robin hits Goliath with a pellet from his sling, and Goliath falls to his death. Hackett and Snead are arrested.

Okay, we know now that the "missing link" never existed – it was a popular misconception. But how do Pygmies sneak all the way to the US from Africa? And Batman boots the Pygmies off of a speeding train, probably to their deaths. So this is a story high on excitement and low on logic.
Goliath, the Missing Link Goliath's Pygmy Hackett Snead
Goliath, the Missing Link The Pygmies Hackett Snead
Detective Comics 41
Detective Comics #41, July 1940, untitled
A masked figure is prowling the grounds of a boys' boarding school.  Is it the homicidal maniac who escaped from the asylum nearby?  Dick Grayson goes undercover to investigate and, after Robin finds and thoroughly thrashes the maniac, discovers the "Masked Menace", as he calls him, actually has a very sane goal: a set of plates for counterfeiting.  The menace is unmasked as meek Mr. Graves, the school's art teacher.

This is very much a Robin story.  Batman's in here, too, somewhere.
Maniac Masked Menace
Homicidal Maniac The Masked Menace
Detective Comics 42
Detective Comics #42, August 1940, "The Case of the Prophetic Pictures"
Portrait artist Pierre Antal is a hit in high society. His paintings of the rich and famous are in great demand. But one day, the owner of one of them finds his portrait with a dagger in it; that night, he is stabbed. A diva finds a dart in her portrait, and she is killed by a dart while performing. A noose is draped over a third, and the person is found hanged the next morning.

A skull-masked killer is prevented from shooting an arrow into a fourth portrait's sitter, so Batman sets a trap by having Antal paint Bruce Wayne's portrait. A bullet hole is found in the portrait's forehead the next morning, and that night, a shot is fired at Wayne while he sits reading. Batman grabs the killer, who turns out to be a Mr. Wylie who was sponsoring Antal's work – the sensation made the paintings more valuable (at least, to those who weren't portrayed). Wylie kills himself, and the "Bruce" who was shot is shown to be a dummy operated by a concealed Dick Grayson.

I'm a big fan of serial killers with a motif, the iconic example being Vincent Price, as either Dr. Phibes or Edward Lionheart (the ham Shakespearean actor from the movie Theatre of Blood, my all-time favorite of such stories), so this unnamed "Painter of Death" was a delight for me to discover when this story was reprinted in a 1970s issue of Detective Comics – along with its sequel from a few years later!

Gee, that "Batman watching over Robin in action" cover would have gone well with last issue's story, no?
Pierre Antal Painter of Death
Pierre Antal The Painter of Death
Detective Comics 43
Detective Comics #43, September 1940, "The Case of the City of Terror"
Batman and Robin find a city run by a corrupt mayor, Harliss Greer, and a narcotics gangster, "Bugs" Norton. Not an especially exciting story.

No docks or boats in this story or the previous one, but that fellow in the orange coat with his back to us looks suspiciously like Blackbeard from the forthcoming story in Batman #4.
Bugs Norton Harliss Greer
"Bugs" Norton Harliss Greer
Batman 3
Batman #3, Fall 1940, "The Strange Case of the Diabolical Puppet Master"
Dimitri is master not only of wooden puppets but also of human ones.  One scratch from a needle dipped in his thought serum, and someone can be controlled from afar by Dimitri's will.  Even the mighty Batman is not immune.
Dimitri the Puppet Master Dimitri's Cossacks
Dmitri, the Puppet Master The Cossacks
Batman #3, Fall 1940, "The Ugliest Man in the World" Certain young men are afflicted with "the Ghastly Change": "in place of the once young, intelligent looking man, there is now a coarse, ugly person with an aged idiotic face".  At the same time, a horde of ugly people attack objects of beauty throughout the city.  It is all the work of Carlson, the self-proclaimed Ugliest Man in the World, out for revenge on the college friends who accidentally deformed him and the society which then rejected him.  Also, Batman meets a bumbling police detective – he was apparently supposed to be a regular part of the series but was dropped after only two appearances.

Bat-trivia: In the '80s, Gerry Conway sort of reworked this story, too, ugly Carlson becoming "Scar".
Detective McGonigle The Ugliest Man in the World The Ugly Horde
Det. McGonigle The Ugliest Man in the World The Ugly Horde
Batman #3, Fall 1940, "The Crime School for Boys!!" Oliver Twist time.  Stopping a warehouse robbery, Batman learns one of the gang is "a mere boy", Tommy, a recent graduate of a "crime school". Pockets preps kids to become members of Big Boy Daniels's gang.  "A school to teach boys how to become criminals! To admire criminals!  I'm going to do something about this!" muses Batman.  He has Dick Grayson join the school and get the kids more interested in sports and fair play than in crime.  But it's when Batman wallops Big Boy Daniels, who is a full head taller than him, that the kids finally decide to join Batman.
Pockets Big Boy Daniels
Pockets Big Boy Daniels
Batman #3, Fall 1940, "The Batman vs. the Cat-Woman!" Now wearing a cat-head mask, The Cat is back in Gotham, stealing gems.  When a member of a diamond syndicate is killed, suspicion naturally falls on her. But Batman quickly learns that Darrel and Hoffer, unknown to remaining partner Blake, have hired the Cat to steal gems for the insurance money, to cover gambling losses – something the murdered man had learned, which caused Hoffer to hire other thugs to kill him.

This is the last Catwoman story for a couple of years and is the last time she is called "The Cat". It is also Detective McGonigle's second, and last, appearance in Batman stories.
Cat-Woman Blake Darrel Hoffer
The Cat Blake Darrel Hoffer
Detective Comics 44
Detective Comics #44, October 1940, "The Land behind the Light!"
Batman and Robin meet a Dr. Marko, who has a machine that opens a passage into a world of giants and dwarves.  They are captured by a giant and taken to the giant king, but they escape. They are then captured by the dwarves, convince them of their good intentions, and help them fight off an invasion by the giants.  But It Was All A Dream – Dick had fallen asleep while reading a book on giants and dwarves.

I rather liked the thug-like features of this particular giant, Gorl, chief hunter for the giant king.
Dr. Marko Gorl Small One
Dr. Marko Gorl The Small Ones
Detective Comics 45
Detective Comics #45, November 1940, "The Case of the Laughing Death!"
The Joker, disguised as music dealer "A. Rekoj", manages a gang of jewel thieves.  The thieves do the hard work of theft, then, as himself, The Joker steps in and robs them.  He also kills a district attorney with a phonograph record: as it is played, the needle scratches away a wax coating and releases a poison gas.
A. Rekoj
"A. Rekoj"
Detective Comics 46
Detective Comics #46, December 1940, untitled
Prof. Hugo Strange develops a powder that causes fear in those who breathe it.  He teams with Carstairs, a gang leader, who sends his thugs out into Gotham City with the fear dust.  Batman and Robin are kept busy, stopping the thugs, but Batman finally catches up with Strange on a cliffside road. There's a fight, and Strange falls off the cliff.

And that's the last we see of Prof. Hugo Strange until the 1970s, when Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers brought him back.


Prof. Hugo Strange Carstairs with Fear Dust
Batman 4
Batman #4, Winter 1940, "The Case of the Joker's Crime Circus!"
A miniature circus is the latest rage of high society parties. However, some nights later, some of those same homes are robbed. Batman realizes the circus is casing the homes for future robberies. Trailing them to a "haunted house" they use as a base, he finds the clown leader is The Joker.
Clown Joker Strongman Ajax Circus Ghost
The Joker, as a Clown Ajax the Strong Man Fake Ghost
Batman #4, Winter 1940, "Blackbeard's Crew and the Yacht Society" Members of the Gotham Yacht Society make an annual cruise on one of their members' yachts. This year, the cruise is interrupted by modern pirates, led by a self-styled Blackbeard. Batman to the rescue! The crisis also serves as a catalyst in helping some passengers solve their personal problems: a meek secretary shows his backbone, a young woman chooses the man to marry, and a bankrupt businessman finds the will to continue living.
Blackbeard Pirate
Blackbeard The Pirates
Batman #4, Winter 1940, "Public Enemy No. 1" Growing up on the streets of Gotham, Jimmy Cag– uh, McCoy was a tough kid, and he was on his way to becoming a tough gang boss when he was sent to prison. Returning after serving his time, he tries to pick up where he left off but discovers Big Costello runs the rackets now. So Jimmy sets out to become the baddest bad-man in town, Public Enemy #1, and wages war on Costello.  Batman must protect innocent Gotham citizens, caught in the middle of the two thugs' struggle.
Red McCoy Big Costello
Jimmy "Red" McCoy Big Costello
Batman #4, Winter 1940, untitled Stacy, a gambler, has his thugs go after the star player of an opposing team to make sure Stacy's team wins the game. Batman gets to play football, disguised as the star. (That's some sturdy makeup!)
Stacy
Stacy
Detective Comics 47
Detective Comics #47, January 1941, untitled
The family of banker Harvey Midas is in a mess. Midas won't let his talented son become a musician, so the son takes to gambling, and his status-seeking wife insists their daughter marry the gold-digging, but titled, Count Alexis rather than the average boy whom the daughter actually loves. It takes a brush with death, prevented by the Batman, to show the elder Midases the error of their ways.


Harvey Midas Count Alexis
Detective Comics 48
Detective Comics #48, February 1941, "The Secret Cavern"
Henry Lewis discovers a cave which runs right under the Fort Stox gold reserve. Gangster Nick is quick to realize the opportunity this provides.  With the help of Renaldo, he frames Lewis's daughter for murder to get the cave's location from Lewis. Batman stops the looting of the gold reserve.



Henry Lewis
Renaldo Nick
Detective Comics 49
Detective Comics #49, March 1941, "Clayface Walks Again!"
Basil Karlo, freed in a traffic accident, returns to the movie studio to become Clayface again. Luckily for him, Julie Madison's appearance in the remake he failed to stop was a sensation, and (under her new screen name, "Portia Storme") she's making another film, so he gets another shot at her. (Portia Storme was also the name of one of the legatees in the Clubfoot story from Batman #2; no connection, though.) This is Julie's last appearance until the 1970s.

Sigh
.  Pirates on the cover, no pirates in the book, but there were pirates in Batman #4.



Escaped Karlo
Hooded Clayface Portia Storme
Batman 5
Batman #5, Spring 1941, "The Riddle of the Missing Card!"
Breaking jail, The Joker falls in with three other crooks and realizes they share card-themed nicknames.




The Joker Queenie Diamond Jack Deegan Clubsy
Batman #5, Spring 1941, "Book of Enchantment" Wild-eyed Prof. Anderson summons Batman and Robin: he's been working on a device which will provide access to a dimension of storybook characters, but Gruel, a witch, comes through and kidnaps his daughter. The heroes must enter a fairy tale land to rescue this "princess". After beating a variety of fantastic henchmen, they return home with the girl. But did the adventure really happen, or was it a trick of the fog?



Prof. Anderson Gruel, the Black Witch One-Eyed Giant
Batman #5, Spring 1941, "The Case of the Honest Crook"

Smiley Sikes
Batman #5, Spring 1941, untitled


Mike Grogan Tommy Grogan
World's Best Comics 1
World's Best Comics #1, Spring 1941, "The Witch and the Manuscript of Doom!
Mystery author Erik Dorne is clubbed to death, and his butler reports a witch leaving the grounds. A page from a missing manuscript is found, a true story about a "real-life witch". It seems this witch killed Dorne and stole the manuscript, but who is it? Dorne's crone of an aunt? His ex-wife, playing a witch on stage? The fellow author and demonologist? Actually, it's his publisher, Wright, who is a fifth columnist whose activities Dorne was about to expose.

There's some hand-waving explanation as to how he counts as a witch, but the real lesson here is not to tell your publisher your next book will cause his arrest.

The Witch
The Witch
Detective Comics 50
Detective Comics #50, April 1941, "The Case of the Three Devils"
The Three Devils are acrobats whose rooftop escapes are giving Batman and Robin headaches.  Detective work leads the duo to the trio's clock-tower hideout, where they wait for the returning thieves.

To save Batman's life, Robin has to cause one Devil to fall to his death. There are other stories where he throws a slingshot pellet at someone and causes them to die. You'd think causing a death would be traumatic to a child, but, in his first appearance, he takes a picture of Boss Zucco killing the man who killed his parents, so maybe his psychology was permanently warped by that.  Think of that, the next time you hear someone talk about how comparatively well-adjusted Dick Grayson is.

Bat-trivia: In the "No Man's Land" storyline from the '90s, cheesy villain Nicholas Scratch has three devil-faced henchmen, who turn out to be genetically modified clones.  I suspect these guys were something of an homage to the Three Devils.

The Three Devils
The Three Devils

This takes me through all the stories reprinted in Batman Archives #1, Batman: The Dark Knight Archives #1, and part of Batman: The Dark Knight Archives #2 and Batman: The World's Finest Archives #1, likely all available in (or through) your local comics shop and possibly your local bookstore. 

1/1/11: Bonus! I tired of doing gangsters and decided to push ahead to some more of the costumed villains .