Back Issue Bin: Detective Comics #27 "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate"
Welcome back! For today's Back Issue Bin we will be covering "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" from Detective Comics #27. Written in 1939 by BILL FINGER and Bob Kane... Kind of...
AKA: The debut of Batman.
It's no surprise that Batman has had its fair share of criticism concerning creative rights. Now, while you may think I'm referring simply to the creator rights between Bob Kane and Bill Finger - and I am - I'm also referring to the story itself. Yes, that's right, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" itself is complete plagiarism.
But let's start with the more common story. Who created Batman? To this day, some people will say Bob Kane, and only Bob Kane. After all, he was the sole creator credited for the creation of Batman for decades. We, now, know better though. If that had been the case, the Batman we know and love would've been and looked very different (see below). As much as I would love to dig into the "who contributed what" aspect of these two men - and I'm sure that I will someday - this post is going to focus on Batman's first story, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate," as opposed to the legacy of Batman.
As I stated above, "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" is complete plagiarism - both in writing and in art. As it turns out, this story is a beat-by-beat retelling of a story that has been published in The Shadow Magazine titled, "Partners of Peril" by Theodore Tinsley. That story features a police commissioner who brings his friend to a crime scene where a chemical syndicate owner has been murdered. Upon investigation, they discover that a second partner has been murdered. At this point, the third partner goes to the fourth partner concerned about the murders, and it is revealed that it is the fourth partner who has been murdering the other partners so that he can have the shares all to himself... Which is, beat for beat, the same story as "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate."
If that weren't enough, even Bob Kane's art is plagiarized. It's been revealed that art was not only lifted or copied from "Partners of Peril," but also artists such as Henry Vallely, Alex Raymond (Flash Gordon), Hal Foster (Tarzan), and more. According to Bill Finger though, this was done, knowingly, simply as a means to present a product to National as an idea of what could be published... But Bob Kane figured that if it was made, it may as well use it and get paid.
I'll never forget my disappointment when learning the true history of one of my favorite character's origins, and while it does dampen the launch of Batman's legacy, it doesn't take away from the fact that Batman is popular today for a reason. So much of what we love about the character - supporting characters, his rogue's gallery, and the city of Gotham - are mostly original and give Batman the credence he deserves.
Out of Context Panel:
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Want to follow my reading journey? Pick up Batman: The Golden Age Vol. 1 and join me in swinging through Batman's history in comics every Tuesday! Also, make sure you check back tomorrow when we blast into the X-Men's history with X-Men #1!