Author: Bob Kane
Professor Radium, you guys! This is going to be awesome. Let's get to it!
Our story begins with one of the finest examples of the surreal in Batman to date, a panel which you could basically just put in the New Yorker, no changes needed:
"This permit seems all right, and golly, but you just seem like the friendliest person. Take all the dead dogs you want, mister!"
Creepy McCreeperson (or as the comic insists on calling him, "Professor Ross") may not wish to be a Batman villain, but he's got three things going against him: he's a scientist, he's got a goatee, and his laboratory has, shall we say, too much negative space.
Good scientists experiment on dead dogs in clean, brightly-lit labs.
Despite his methods and facial hair (or perhaps because of them?!?!), the Professor's new "radium serum" does indeed "repair protoplasm", which is scientifiction gobbledegook for "holy shit, I brought a dog back to life!" Does he stop there? Do not pass Go, collect your Nobel Prize? Naturally not. "Next I must revive a dead man--then I shall be famous!" he cries.
It's not hubris, however, which is the Professor's fatal flaw, but poor documentation. Observe!
This is actually how they used to do peer review.
Anyway, Jowly J. Jowlton there (middle name: Joseph) accuses the Professor of fraud and radium theft (does radium even have a "private use"? can it get you high or something?), but "for your excellent work in the past", decides to fire him instead of making him pay for the radium. Because all of that makes sense, somehow.
But the Professor refuses to give up! If the Institute won't issue him a permit for a dead body, he'll find his own! After all, anyone can dig up a grave! And I'm sure Gotham has more than a few homeless that no one will--
"I will revive you, Professor. But from now on Johnston is the Professor, and you are the assistant!"
You're a poor scientist, Professor Ross. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable! Also, if they didn't believe your assistant about the dogs, why would they believe you were ever dead? Witnesses! Pictures! Bar graphs! You need evidence, dammit!
Well, he does get evidence, after Johnston brings him back to life. First a flower wilts in his hand; then a sparrow dies when he touches it. I can only imagine what's going to happen when Johnston rushes in for a hug.
"I say, Professor, you're looking a little green around the gills!"
In fact, Ross now glows in the dark, which I'll just bet will get him all the ladies. Dating will have to wait, however--the Professor accidentally touches Johnston, killing him instantly (sadly Johnston doesn't crumble into little bits).
"Oh, how could I have known that injecting myself with radium would lead to bad things!"
To his credit, Ross's response is not "I AM INVINCIBLE! GIVE ME ALL THE DIAMONDS OR I MELT YOU!" (That's totally what I would do.) Instead, he discovers an antidote, called "Volitell", but it wears off after 24 hours, and his meager supply is soon exhausted. Let's say you're in this situation. Do you:
A) Call somebody for help?
B) Stay in your home and try not to touch people?
C) Make a ridiculous costume and go on a crime spree?
If you answered C, congratulations! You will soon get punched in your crazy steampunk face:
What is it with Batman villains and posing in front of wavy smoke lines?
The Professor embarks on a campaign of... well, not terror exactly... no murders either... a campaign of stealing drugs from hospitals, I guess? Not terribly exciting, really, but it must be a slow week for Batman and Robin, because our heroes decide to give this their full attention. Batman theorizes the thief will show up at Gotham Hospital tonight (he's read the script), and it turns out to be quite true.
Sadly, the ensuing fight is as bland and rote as we've ever seen. I won't post the whole thing, but Batman and Robin basically tell him, "Stealing is wrong! You're going to jail!" The Professor reacts by taking off his glove and melting Batman's face off no wait that would be awesome. Actually he does this:
For a Professor he's really quite stupid.
Stunned by the "shove a table at them" trick, Batman and Robin watch in astonishment as the Professor pushes a supply cabinet over and then climbs out the window. Have they never seen a dude try to escape before? Maybe the suit's throwing them off. Moments later, the "human radium ray" dissolves the pipe as he climbs down, and our daredevil heroes are thrown for a loop:
"Hold on, Robin! Don't fall into the inky black nothing that is apparently the entire world besides this building!" "...okay!"
This is the paragraph where I prove I know more about writing than the people currently behind "Dexter": good villains are all about how they interact with the heroes. Do they push them to new places physically or emotionally? Do they reflect some aspect of the heroes back onto themselves, a warped and twisted mirror? Does their level of violence and mayhem demand that the heroes cross their personal and moral boundaries? The great Batman villains have done one or all of these. A fight scene with a great villain isn't just exciting or novel; it's a direct representation of the inherent conflict between good and evil, hero and villain. When it's as boring as the one we just witnessed, perhaps that's a sign that, to put it in literary terms, this villain sucks donkey balls.
Also, he's incompetent: Professor Like, Totally Rad dropped one of his gloves at the scene, which, if you had a thing which was the only thing stopping you from killing people, would you accidentally leave it behind? Yeah, me neither.
Anyway, Batman spends the better part of a page pulling fingerprints off the inside of the glove, which is a neat little forensic trick, detailed step by step (try it at home, kids! all you need is powdered lead oxide, a sheet of photographic citrate paper, and a glove left by a criminal!), and in a more interesting story I might actually like it. Here it's just a reminder that Bruce isn't challenged or even perturbed in the least in this story. But at least we get lots of pictures of Robin pretending to be interested!
"Hm. Hmmmm. Hm. Yes, I see. Mmhmm. I am going to play so much Nintendo when you finally shut up about friggin' fingerprints."
The real problem with this villain is that he actually belongs in Spiderman, where Peter Parker, a scientist who accidentally acquires strange powers and uses them for good, fights scientists who accidentally acquire strange powers and use them for evil. Spiderman is about power and how you use it (and thus also about growing up), but Batman is about trauma and how you deal with it (and thus also about the past, which is why it works so well with noir). (Superman should be about identity and how you define it, but from what I can tell it's too often about power and/or Jesus instead.)
All of which is to say that what we have here is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Batman is about on a thematic level, which translates to the character level and then to the action. It's all a dreadful misfire and whoever actually wrote it should feel bad.
The proper way to write this character (for this era of Batman, anyway) would be to focus on connecting his radioactive body with a past trauma--perhaps his father experimented on him as a child, with both the experiments and the necessarily resulting isolation acting as metaphors for child abuse; when his father finally dies (or lets him out), Ross tries to find a cure, but the Volitell doesn't last and is literally and (with the murders committed in acquiring it) figuratively expensive. In Batman, trauma is never eliminated, only alleviated through (violent) expression. (You can apply this theory to virtually every lasting Batman villain, and it works because it mirrors Batman himself. The Joker is the most attractive villain of all because he won't tell us what his trauma was--although to look at him, it must have been a doozy of a bad day.)
Anyway, that alternate outline isn't Shakespeare, but it would give Ross something to feel and Bruce something to play off of, and it would get Batman out of the realm of words and ideas (Spiderman's area) and into that of emotions and images, where it belongs. The Spiderman template is "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", where Frankenstein and his monster are combined into the same character, with one side (or in some cases one of multiple personalities) played for horror and the other for sympathy; you can tell that's what the author is going for here because they double down on the sympathy angle:
"I've acquired this spanking new hat! Isn't it stylish? Also, I'm a radioactive monster and we really shouldn't hug."
As you can guess, Doc Insta-Kill instantly kills her as they touch. He reverts to that healthy green glow and laments loudly enough for the maid to hear, sending him fleeing into the night. I know I should feel sad for the Professor, but I can't help but find all this hilarious--partially because, as you know, I'm a terrible person, but also because of just how poorly this has all been done. This is page 8 of 12, and we're just now hearing about his girlfriend? And why has he only just now decided to tell her about his discovery? Why doesn't he take better precautions? We're asked to believe that somebody smart enough to reverse death is dumb enough to continue hugging the people he cares about, and it just doesn't fly.
Speaking of which, why doesn't he just revive Mary with his radium serum? Sure, she'll be a deadly green monster, but that still beats being dead, doesn't it?
Meanwhile, Batman's little trick with the fingerprints has solved the whole case, immediately connecting the glove to Ross and his involvement with Johnston's death, as well as the new murder, which is apparently being reported directly from Mary's maid to the Commissioner (that's what he gets for picking up the 911 phone when it's not his turn to pick up the 911 phone):
"What's that? Repeat everything you say to provide exposition?"
I don't know what's funnier there: Gordon, Robin's "if I had a nickel for every time I heard Bruce say that" expression, or the creeping advance of the Terrible Darkness behind them which continues to subtly eat away at the world, Duck Amok style.
Anyway, upon hearing about the Professor's odd glow, Batman guesstimates that radium's the culprit and Volitell's the cure (say it with me: he's read the script!). The police camp out at Ross's house, leaving him no choice but to go both on the run and crazy.
"I've found him! He's at the giant newspaper factory!"
Meanwhile the radium is catching up with him, causing his hair to fall out and his brain to be consumed by a lust for murder (ie., mid-life crisis). Bizarrely, everybody involved doesn't really care about the murders so much as the Volitell, which is somehow completely hidden from the police in Ross's house. They decide to lure Ross back home so he can show them the drug's location, and then maybe punch him or something. A key part of the plan is making sure the media knows, because if there's one thing we know about "Professor Radium", it's that he definitely reads the giant newspapers. (Except the Giant Washington Post, that's practically a giant rag.)
As they lie in wait in Ross's home, Robin expresses concern that Ross will fall for this "stunt", but Batman is confident that Ross is a moron. I can't say I disagree. The Prof proves us both right by showing up in his goofy suit to get the Volitell out of the hollow book where he hid it. (I'd take more issue with this being somehow an impenetrable hiding place, but we are dealing with the GCPD, who once lost crime in a fog, so whatever.) Batman and Robin jump out and yell "boo!" but the professor is unstartled.
This is ridiculous, but I do like the alliteration.
Anyway, hilariously, Batman and Robin are completely fine, with Batman exclaiming, "Yes--we're still alive! I made a transparent rubberoid composition that I sprayed over our bodies immunizing us from the radium!" which is probably his least pithy retort ever. The Professor is still able to escape, Batman and Robin basically stumbling over their own feet to give him the opportunity, although Ross does what I would do and makes time to hit a small child:
"I don't always hit children. But when I do, I prefer to hit annoying cartoon sidekicks."
The rest of the action climax is terrible, takes place on a cargo ship for literally no reason (does Ross live next to a port?), and Batman wins with the old Errol Flyn "swing feet-first into the bad guy" move that's like, derring-do 101. He kicks Ross off a platform and into the water, where he presumably drowns or something, Batman can't be bothered to check.
"But Batman, shouldn't we try to save his life?"
And with that, it's all over but our usual, overstuffed denouement panel:
For the love of God, seal the tomb.
And so ends a pretty boring and poorly-conceived Batman tale. Even the art was pretty terrible. And the charm of that goofy radiation suit only went so far. What bothers me the most, though, was that this story totally missed the opportunity to be the story of Professor Radium and his Radioactive Murder Dogs. Come on! How do you miss that? Murder Dogs!