Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Great Unknown Batman Stories #1: Marathon of Menace

Batman #34 opened with Marathon of Menace, one of my favorite Batman stories of all time. The story begins in the past, when Marty Steele was a young man with a thirst for speed. He set records on land, air and sea, but now time has passed him by, and his doctors inform him that his heart will not take the strain. But Steele is still obsessed by racing and so he decides to sponsor a cross-country race.

The story features the experiences of three particular racers: Roy Damon, a blind scientist who hopes to test out his radar devices that can make it possible for him to race despite his handicap; "John Doe", a mystery man; and Glenda West, the spoiled heiress and niece of a major manufacturer of motors. Her uncle sees the promotional possibilities of having Glenda win the race, and contracts with some criminals to sabotage the other entrants.

Batman and Robin have decided to race along, but not for the purse or the glory, but to test out their abilities and equipment. We learn that there are three main legs of the race: From Gotham City to the Black Hills of South Dakota, then to the Grand Canyon and then to San Francisco, and contestants may use each form of transportation (car, boat, plane) only for one leg.

We get a little useful geography lesson here from Batman:

Both Damon and Doe have had boat problems due to the sabotage, and Glenda makes it to the first checkpoint:

But as she arrives, she spots the men monkeying with the other planes, and so they decide they have to eliminate her. Fortunately Batman and Robin arrive in the nick of time and save Glenda. But in the battle, John Doe's plane is shot and starts to leak fuel.

As Doe is flying through the Grand Canyon, Batman and Robin are riding in the Batboat below. Doe radios them for help due to his empty tank, and Robin makes a terrific rope-climb with a stunning backdrop:

Meanwhile Glenda and Roy are driving towards the finish line. A crook shoots out Roy's tire and Glenda stops to help:

And we learn how admirable Glenda is a bit later as Roy heads off with enthusiastic thanks. In fact, she did not have a spare tire, and is sacrificing her chance at victory.

John Doe wins the race, although he finishes slightly behind Batman (who was not officially an entrant). And Doe reveals himself to be Marty Steele, the man who sponsored the race:

Steele awards the prize to Roy Damon, who will use it to help other blind people. Glenda has learned to help others, and so everybody's happy, except possibly for Uncle George.

Comments: A wonderful story by Bill Finger with terrific art by Dick Sprang. Finger loved these types of stories where Batman and Robin are not necessarily the focus of the story, but characters who push the story along in parts. One of my other favorites is a very similar story from Detective #79 called Destiny's Auction. I should probably cover that story next.

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