Criminals Are a Superstitious and Idiotic Lot

DETECTIVE COMICS #233: The Ghost from Outer Space

Issue #233 promises John Jones’ most INCREDIBLE case. Without qualification. And, well, while it is pretty silly, things definitely go…uphill? downhill? Somewhere from here. This is not the most incredible or most ridiculous or most amazing or most anything case. It’s really just another fucking weird story.

Right away we are reminded of J’onn’s fire weakness as he balks at the flares a police officer is using to mark a car accident. As usual, this is practically a guarantee of a fire encounter later. At the car accident, notorious gang leader Gus Bartley has died in the crash and the police officer who moonlights as a mechanic points out to J’onn that the brake line on the truck was cut. 

He also refers to J’onn as “Lt. Jones” even though I had no idea John had a rank in the department. I thought he was just “detective.” Probably no one will call him lieutenant again though, so I really shouldn’t put much stock into this one frame.

Next J’onn follows the tread marks using his crazy martian vision (more uses discovered daily!) back to Bartley’s gang’s hideout. He says that “By sustained concentration, I can keep that ONE tire mark enlarged on the retina of my eyes.” Dude, what? Also he does this while driving. He is staring at the ground, with the door to his car wide open, and driving. 

Finally he reaches the gang’s hideout and peers inside where he discovers that they are highly superstitious based on their decorating. 

This decorating is so stupid. If you are super worried about breaking a mirror? Just don’t own a giant mirror. You don’t want to walk under a ladder? Don’t have one in your goddamn living room. Concerned you might open an umbrella indoors? Why do you have even one umbrella? Let alone two?

J’onn listens in on their conversation and hears that not only did THEY kill Gus, but that Gus threatened to come back and haunt them if they ever did kill him. Well well well, I hope you’re excited. Because it’s time once again for the classic Martian crimebusting tactic of “freak the criminals out until they confess.” 

J’onn disguises himself as the ghost of Bartley and starts doing weird things to each of the gang members. He puts Bartley’s old hat on one particularly fat and sweaty guy. As another guy is shaving he comes over and starts lathering up his face for him. Then as the third of these hardened criminals is about to bust open a soda pop, J’onn makes it appear as though the ghost of Bartley is rising from the bottle, oooooOOooOoOooOooooh! The three gang members all start freaking out, but decide that they won’t let a little thing like a ghost stop them from doing their criming. 

The next day though, as they head out to steal stuff, invisible J’onn shoves one of the guys under a ladder, and berates him with Bartley’s voice. Muahaha. Crime FOILED. Because they can’t do a crime with a bad omen like that hanging over them. Later they again try to break into a safe, except there’s a mirror near the safe that J’onn (aka GHOST OF BARTLEY) breaks, once again scaring off our crooks.

The next week, they decide to try to break into an exclusive beach club, and THIS TIME they took a lot of zig zags across town so that ghost couldn’t follow them! Guys, it’s a ghost, not an alligator. Well, really it’s a Martian, but you THINK it’s a ghost, and I don’t know why you think that taking some crazy route to your next job is gonna “lose” him. Case in point, they enter the club to find a room FULL of giant umbrellas, ALL opened! Another crime, down the tubes.

 

They’ve had just about enough and decide it’s time to fight that ghost off. One of the gang members finds in a book, a legend about trapping a ghost using a snake’s rattle, a lily pad, and a hound’s tooth. “To the zoo!” he says, because they are going to go there and kill a snake? What in the fuck.

That evening, the gang has all the necessary items to trap their ghost. Apparently a ghost can’t resist touching the things they got, so they place them in a room and when the ghost goes in after them, they’ll slam a steel door shut, trapping him. I get the superstition of luring the ghost, sure. I don’t get the whole uh, trapping him in a room? With a steel door? Are they ghost-proof? Does the person writing this just have some completely different ideas of ghosts than I do? Do I need to go research the general ideas people had of ghosts back in the 1950’s?

“Oh well, in 1956, people thought that ghosts could be trapped by any room if it had a steel door and the right kind of wallpaper. The idea that ghosts could walk through walls didn’t come about until around the mid 1980’s when a middle-aged man in Newport, Connecticut claimed a ghost had entered his  home and slapped his sister-in-law’s ass. This lead to a rash of misdeeds across the United States being blamed on ghosts, until late 1987.” 

Uh, anyway, J’onn decides to play along with their little trick and goes into the room. Except oh shit, who didn’t see this coming? In the room is a goddamned oil lamp. The flame weakens J’onn and the gang members all think that they have got that ghost whupped for sure. J’onn however goes to the lamp and basically CRIES on it to extinguish the flame, then gives the gang members one last good spook.

Back at the station, they can’t confess fast enough. And J’onn doesn’t get any credit. Good job, LIEUTENANT. HOWEVER YOU GOT THAT RANK.

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