Friday, January 06, 2012


Why We Love Detective Comics
Stories like "Die Small ... Die Big!"This one is from Detective Comics #385, with a cover date of March 1969.

I have a copy of Detective Comics #385, but I first saw this story a long time ago, in the late 1970s. It was reprinted in Batman #257, which was published in 1974, but I bought it at a used bookstore a few years later.

Batman #257 is a great comic book, one of those 100-page giant that DC used to publish, with some crazy Bronze Age story along with a bunch of older stories, from the 1940 to the 1950s to the 1960s. Batman #257 has an insane Penguin story; a Joker story from the 1940s where they capture Batman and force Robin to pull off a bunch of crazy college initiation pranks in order to free the caped Crusader; an Alfred story (he had his own feature in the back of Batman comics in the 1940s); another crazy story called "Ally Babble and the Fourteen Peeves" about a guy named Ally Babble who is hired by an eccentric millionaire to take care of fourteen people who annoy him ... I'm going to make sure I didn't dream that last one because that summary looks awfully silly in print like that ...; a not-so-great story with great art by Gil Kane about a guy who gives Robin an awful beating and Batman has to track the guy down; and "Die Small ... Die Big."

The art in Detective Comics #385 is pretty awesome. "Die Small ... Die Big!" has art by Bob Brown. The backup Batgirl story has art by Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. (And, yes, that's as awesome as it sounds.

"Die Small ... Die Big!" had quite an effect on me in my early teens. It doesn't have The Joker or The Riddler or anything like that. It's a more human story about one man's lonely existence and his efforts to use his dying moments to do something meaningful, like save Batman's life.

Herbert Small is dying. And no one will notice when he's gone. He's a mailman, with no family and no friends, he's just going to carry the mail until the end.

But at the end of a wild set of coincidences, he uncovers a plot to kill Batman. He has no idea how to warn Batman, so he leaves a mannequin at Wayne Manor with a note on it, warning of the plot. (I think he chose Wayne Manor because there was some kind of dinner there and Herbert Small knew Commissioner Gordon would be there.) The mannequin is a likeness of Batman and when the cowl is removed, Herbert Small's face is revealed. He has set himself up as bait for the conspiracy to kill Batman!

By the end of the 15-page tale, Herbert has drawn out the conspiracy and the bad guys show up to kill him. But the real Batman shows up and whomps on them. But Herbert manages to throw himself in front of one of the thugs and he takes a bullet meant for Batman. The Caped Crusader knocks the bad guy down and shows his face to the dying Herbert Small. Herbert dies, smiling, knowing that he has saved the life of Batman.

"He ... died ... happy," Batman says, a little choked up. "But Herbert Small didn't die ... small ... He died ... BIG!"

And in the final panel, you can see the tears running down his cheeks from under his cowl.

I didn't know comic books could be like this.

And that is one more reason why we love Detective Comics.


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