Batman #5: "The Riddle Of The Missing Card!"

Batman #5
"The Riddle Of The Missing Card!"
Spring, 1941

Story: Bill Finger
Art: Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson
Inks: George Roussos

Young Dick Grayson yawns and comments that there hasn't been much to do in Gotham City since the end of the Joker.  Millionaire Bruce Wayne figures that the Clown Prince of Crime must have died after falling down a trap door, and hasn't been heard from since.  Unbeknownst to either Bruce or Dick, the Joker did survive his fall through a trap door, and into the sewage waters below.

While the fog hangs over the waterfront, a small boat makes its way along the dark water, and a cry for help is heard.  Two of the three people aboard the boat are reluctant to stop for a rescue, but the third shines a light.  Before the flashlight is turned off, the ghastly grin of the Joker is seen, and the trio welcome a fourth member aboard.  Now in an abandoned factory, the Clown Prince of Crime tells the others about his narrow escape from the Batman.  He had swum along the pipe until the end was reached, and soon found himself in the bay.  The Joker would like to know why the trio hadn't wanted to save him at first.  It turns out that they are diamond smugglers, but business has been dead since the war's begun.  Needing a new leader to guide them to more profitable pursuits, they picked up the Clown Prince of Crime.  The trio introduce themselves as Queenie, Diamond Jack Deegan, and Clubsy.  The big man considers himself an expert at using his club.  Since their group includes a Joker, a black-haired Queen, a Jack of Diamonds, and a King of Clubs, they are four cards who are about to play a game of chance with the authorities.  Clubsy is not one to play card with the police, especially if he can't cheat them.

The Joker's idea involves a gambling ship outside the three mile limit where the law can't reach them.  Their victims will be high society.  Queenie will attract the playboys, Diamond Jack will mix with the rich guests for information about their jewelry, and Clubsy will be on hand to make them hit the deck.  The Harlequin of Hate proposes a toast to their success.  Two months pass, with news of the gambling ship, "The Deck," which has been linked with a series of jewel robberies.  At Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne is about to have a look at the Deck, but manages to nick himself while shaving.  This unkind cut will serve to save the Caped Crusader from harm, and help him in his upcoming meeting with the Joker.  That night, the millionaire playboy is on the guest list aboard the gambling ship.  He soon finds himself dancing with the hostess of the ship.  Queenie notes the nasty cut on his chin, and suspects that the bored playboy may be more than he seems.

A bit later, Bruce walks on deck, and steps into a dark corner to smoke a cigarette.  As he stands there, he hears voices discussing the location of Mrs. Logan's jewelry collection.  With her yacht setting sail on the morrow, and the crew ashore this evening, it would be an ideal target for the Joker and his Four Cards.  Hearing the name of the Joker, the millionaire playboy is unable to suppress a gasp of surprise.  He tries to make light of the moment, but Clubsy's blackjack leaves him with a severe case of lightheadedness.  The body of Bruce Wayne is thrown overboard.  When Queenie protests, she learns that dead men tell no tales, and this particular man heard her refer to him as the Joker.  The still form comes to life in the water, and tries to swim for it.  The Clown Prince of Crime uses his silenced gun to fire bullets at his intended victim.  He watches as the guest throws up his arms in despair, and sinks into the icy waters.

Unseen by the Joker and his Four Cards, Bruce Wayne makes his way onto the wharf.  Although hit by a bullet, the millionaire playboy heads for home, and a change of clothes.  Once the youthful ward has been filled in, the Batman and Robin enter the Bat-Cave, and the Batmobile roars off into the night.  Through the streets of Gotham they travel, until the stop at the Logan Yacht, and the two Caped Crimefighters board her.  The Joker and his gang hadn't been expecting a visit from the Caped Crusader, but the Dark Knight is delighted to see him again.  As Batman wades into his ghastly opponent, the Boy Wonder manages to knock a gunman off balance.

The Harlequin of Hate seizes a fire axe to use against his arch-foe, but the Caped Crusader has got a handle on the situation, and hurls the Joker for a loss.  Elsewhere, Clubsy is determined to tear Robin apart, but the Boy Wonder drops on his back, and uses a circus stunt to make his assailant too dizzy to fight.

As the Joker makes his getaway, the Batman is determined to go after him, and leaves Robin to fend for himself.  The Clown Prince of Crime reaches his getaway car, just as the Caped Crusader gets behind the wheel of the Batmobile, and the race is on.  The two vehicle take on the treacherous course, with the Batmobile easily overtaking the getaway car, and the Joker pulling a surprise maneuver.  With the getaway car blocking the road, the Batmobile will not stop in time to avoid a crash.  The Batman turns the wheel to avoid the inevitable, causing the car to crash through the wooden barrier, and off the cliff into the ravine.  The resulting crash echoes in the dark, followed by the hideous laughter of the Clown Prince of Crime.  He has just witnessed the death of his most hated enemy, the Batman.

The laughter has come too soon.  For the Masked Manhunter had managed to reach a tree branch during the death-plunge.  Back on the yacht, the Boy Wonder avoids Diamond Jack's gun, only to be grabbed from behind by Clubsy.  When the Joker returns to the Deck, he finds Robin held prisoner.  The others have uncovered a wireless hidden in the Boy Wonder's belt-buckle.  Now, the Harlequin of Hate can learn if the Dark Knight is really dead.  Removing the belt from the youngster, a call is made on the wireless, and is answered by the unsuspecting Batman.

The Joker taunts his foe, then invites him for a game aboard the Deck.  If the authorities were to appear, then Robin's life would be lost.  Later, the cabin's door opens, and the Batman makes his entrance.  He is introduced to the Black Queen, the Jack of Diamonds, and the King of Clubs.  Seeing that Robin is safe for the moment, the Caped Crusader takes a seat at the table.  As the Clown Prince of Crime deals to the Masked Manhunter, Queenie notices the nick on Batman's chin, and realizes that he must be Bruce Wayne.  The cards are shuffled, with a human life at stake, and the armed leader of the Four Cards holding a Joker.  Knowing that he was not expected to win, the Masked Manhunter hurls the cards into his opponent's face.

As the gambling table is overturned, and the Joker's Cards gang up on the Batman, the Harlequin of Hate seizes Mrs. Logan's jewelry case.  The laughing criminal then sets fire to a pile of rags.  The Clown Prince of Crime leaves the cabin laughing, and locks the steel door behind him.  With the steel shutters of the windows also locked, the people inside will surely burn to death.  Inside the cabin, Diamond Jack prepares to shoot the Batman, only to be shot in turn by Queenie.  The Dark Knight doesn't understand why the woman would save his life.  The Black Queen is not about to explain her actions, especially when she is shot in the back by a dying Jack of Diamonds.

Queenie is able to tell the man beneath the cowl that she loves him, and asks to be kissed before it's too late.  A kiss between criminal and crimefighter takes place in the burning cabin.  Bruce Wayne's secret dies with the Black Queen a moment later.  With Robin freed, the Batman mixes two vials from his utility belt, and are used to blast the steel door from its hinges.  The Dynamic Duo are now free to follow the trail of the Joker.  A chase via speedboat is made, with the Joker's laughter making itself heard over the pouring rain.  The Harlequin of Hate is now as wild and violent as the elements themselves.

The Joker's lead is cut short by the Masked Manhunter's speedboat, and the bizarre criminal heads for a nearby lighthouse.  The lighthouse keeper is the next victim of the Joker's criminal brand of humor.  Soon, the Batman is chasing his quarry up the winding staircase, and to the top of the tower.  One leap brings the Dark Knight together with his criminal prey.  Theirs is a deadly game.  In his fury, the Harlequin of Hate manages to send the Batman backwards, and over the railing.  Using his keen reflexes, the Caped Crusader manages to keep his grip upon the rail.  The Clown Prince of Crime is determined to send his arch-foe to a watery grave.

A wild card bursts onto the scene, as Robin prevents the Joker from having his fun.  The criminal mastermind rushes towards his smaller prey, but the Boy Wonder drops to one knee, and uses the madman's own momentum to send him over the side.  The body of the Joker takes the plunge into the waters below, then disappears from view.  Robin notes that the criminal lost the game, and Batman is aware that a single card was overlooked.  Once the jewels have been returned, back at Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson asks about the overlooked card.  Instead of four cards, there should have been five.  The Harlequin of Hate had the King of Clubs, the Jack of Diamonds, the Black Queen, and the Joker.  He had neglected Hearts and there was a heart involved.  It was Queenie who had saved their lives and it was that which defeated the criminal mastermind in the end.  Is the Joker really gone?  Or does he wait for the day to pull another clever crime?  Only the stormy sea can provide the answer.

"The Riddle Of The Missing Card!" has been reprinted in World's Best Comics: Golden Age Sampler (2003) and Batman: The Dark Knight Archives Vol. 2.

Jack O' Diamonds was the nom du crime of Jack Winters, the mutant who took in a young Scott Summers, and later became the Living Diamond.

The Black Queen is the name of another character in the X-Men Universe.

A shaving cut saved the life of Batman in the nick of time.

Unlike his Earth-One counterpart, the Earth-Two Bruce Wayne was a smoker.

The Joker has got an axe to grind, but the Caped Crusader manages to chop him down to size.

The Boy Wonder refuses to buckle under, thanks in part to his wireless communication with his mentor.  (Holy Verizon, Batman!)

The Clown Prince of Crime goes from greasy rags to riches in jewels when he is about to make his exit from a burning cabin.

When dealing with a Joker in the deck, the Batman has got an ace up his sleeve in the form of the Boy Wonder.

Steve Chung
"The Review Of The Missing Card!"