Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Frank Robbins, Batman and Mr. Morse


Frank Robbins wrote some exciting stories for his long-running, Caniffesque comic strip, JOHNNY HAZARD. Someone at DC Comics liked them enough to make Robbins the main artist on BATMAN and THE FLASH in the late sixties and the result was…well…weird!

Like Bob Haney, Robbins was never one to let a little thing like continuity stand in the way of what he considered a good story. Thus we were regularly introduced to sweeping, life-changing plot points that were never referenced again. We meet Bruce Wayne’s apparently real wife, Barry Allen’s life-long best friend, Batman’s tailor (who sews his labels in the back of the Caped Crusader’s costumes) and the fellow we’re discussing today…Mr. Morse.

Mr. Morse—no first name g

iven—appeared only once to the best of my knowledge and that was in 1969’s DETECTIVE COMICS # 386. It is, however, strongly implied in the story STAND-IN FOR MURDER that Mr. Morse had been a major part of Bruce Wayne’s life up until this story…even though we had never seen or heard of him before.

The first unlikely event in this story is that we see Bruce Wayne arriving at Gotham Airfield to—“as a civic gesture”—test pilot a new,

top-secret VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) vehicle. Can’t you just see the Air Force guys as they attempted to figure out who to choose to fly the thing? “Hmmm…how about that millionaire over in Gotham City?” Ooooooookay…

All goes well with the test flight but when the vehicle lands, it seems Bruce Wayne is nowhere to be found! JEEPERS! Commissioner Gordon tries and fails to contact Batman to help with the mystery. Cut to the flashback!

Earlier that morning we see Dick Grayson heading off to school leaving Bruce lounging around Wayne Manor in his smoking jacket...smoking! A pipe! The ever-helpful Alfred brings in the “Batman mail” that had been picked up the previous evening at police headquarters and coincidentally Brucie open up one with a tip to a morning bank robbery happening in exactly 30 minutes. Alfred reminds him (again with only 30 minutes to go!?) that he’s supposed to be flying that VTOL. “This is another of those special occasions I HAVE to be in TWO places at the SAME time! Only one way to cope with it—,” says Mr. Wayne.

Clearly having done this before, Alfred agrees to make “the necessary call.” In a matter of minutes, the doorbell rings and “Bruce Wayne” arrives. The new arrival alludes to “the usual facial transformation” and is assured by Alfred—who addresses him as Mr. Morse at this point—that he has made himself up “with the usual perfection.” Again, clearly they have gone through this before!

Inquiring as to what capacity he has to sub for Bruce Wayne “this time,” he is unfazed to hear that it’s flying the top secret plane!! Apparently Mr. Morse was a man of many talents. He sets off for the airport.

Meanwhile Batman is captured by the run-of-the-mill bank robbers with ridiculous ease and tear gassed. While all of this is going on elsewhere, the unfortunate Mr. Morse is hijacked by yet another Bruce Wayne doppelganger and sent off the dock into the ocean in a truck! To his death!

It seems that the new “Wayne” is a rich bad guy who wants revenge on Bruce and toward that end has made an exact duplicate of the top-secret VTOL plane. He steals the original (while disguised as Bruce) and sends the remote controlled substitute back to the airfield, thus making it look as though Bruce Wayne had disappeared!

Needless to say, Batman eventually escapes from the bank robbers and is a bit upset (although not visibly much) that “that poor stand-in” was missing and

that everyone was convinced it WAS Bruce Wayne. He manages to track down the bad guy in a rather convoluted manner and defeats him fairly easily. He a

pparently tells them where he dumped the body and we see the

Commissioner bemoaning his friend’s fate only to have Batman spout out rather matter-of-factly, “Prepare for a shock, Commissioner. The victim ISN’T Bruce Wayne. Just phoned Wayne--He’s quite alive, b

ut in bed with a bad head cold. He didn’t want to disappoint the city council so he hired a stand-in! Poor guy took it for him—all the way!” The end. Seriously, that’s the end. Can’t you just see Batman and Gordon after that having a good laugh at poor Mr. Morse’s extent?

So we know that Bruce had used a corporate double (perhaps more than one) on a number of occasions, that he was kept available on a moment’s notice, that he needed make-up to look the part and that he was able to fly planes. RIP Mister Morse—we hardly knew ye.

1 comment:

Ralph said...

Okay, here's a story idea that isn't original but could be fun. Basically, we find out that Mr. Morse ISN'T dead and plots a revenge on Bruce. He either could be some kind of villain that we find out is Morse or he's just behind the scenes, or he could even come back still looking like Bruce. Maybe he could even find out Bruce is Batman, which would just add to the fun. I'm sure if anyone else reads this they will take off and run with it.